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Excrement in the City: Tokyo

David Howell

Friday, May 8, 2015 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Communications Bldg 226


Excrement was a hot commodity in the cities of nineteenth-century Japan. The widespread use of night soil as an organic fertilizer meant that residents of big cities such as Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka could sell their waste rather than dispose of it themselves. Thanks to this trade, Japanese cities enjoy a reputation as remarkably green spaces, in which residents lived in salubrious harmony with nature. Professor Howell calls us to put poop into the modernizing city. Night soil remained an important fertilizer until after World War II, even as its place in the urban landscape changed a great deal in the decades after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

David L. Howell is Professor of Japanese History at Harvard University and Editor of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Howell earned his B.A. at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and his Ph.D. in History at Princeton University. Before joining the Harvard faculty in 2010 he taught at the University of Texas at Austin and Princeton University. Howell has written two books and numerous articles, including, most recently, Foreign Encounters and Informal Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan (Journal of Japanese Studies, 2014). He is particularly interested in the ways changing political and economic institutions affected the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people in nineteenth-century Japan.

This event is sponsored by the UW Japan Studies Program, the Department of History, and the Journal of Japanese Studies

For more information contact: (206) 685-9997 /

The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Howell Flyer (PDF)