Jakobina K. Arch

Assistant Professor,

Whitman College 


Jakobina Arch is an Assistant Professor of History at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Her research focuses on marine environmental history in Japan, especially in the early modern period. Her first book, Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan, was just published this year in the University of Washington Press's Weyerhaeuser Environmental Series, focusing on the many roles of whales and the marine environment they represent in Tokugawa society and culture. She has also published two chapters in edited volumes related to whaling in early modern Japan, and an article on postwar Japanese whale meat consumption in Environmental History.


“Taking Whales, Taking Spaces: Nineteenth Century Whaling's Connections to the Imperial Expansions of Japan and the United States”

After 1800, foreign ships increasingly pushed to trade with Japan, prompting efforts to defend Japanese sovereignty, and eventually to expand their imperial territory in competition with other global powers. At the same time, coastal whaling groups began to metamorphose into modern whaling corporations working within what would become Japan's colonial waters. The Japanese quickly recognized and exploited the political possibilities offered by whaling: early, unsuccessful attempts by the Tokugawa shogunate to start up whaling following the American model in Hokkaido and the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands were more politically than they were economically driven, and Meiji-era colonial ambitions were equally essential for the more successful expansion of whaling around Korea. Japanese imperial planners recognized the possibilities of territorial claim offered by the presence of whalers in far-flung areas of the sea, as modelled by Americans pushing for treaty ports and free trade with Japan. Tracing William Tsutsui's idea of Japan as a pelagic empire further back than the late 19th century, this paper considers how the originally local enterprise of coastal whaling became part of Japanese colonial politics and the globally complex construction of ideas of territory as related to maritime space, particularly in its interactions with American whaling. The intersections between Japanese whalers and other empires throughout the nineteenth century highlight the importance of the connection between whalers, whaling grounds, and ocean-based imperial expansion in and around Japan as major factors driving the development of Japan's pelagic empire.

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