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CGED Research Seminar Series

Children as Charismatic Conservationists in 1960s Japan


Speaker: Janet Borland, Assistant Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU

Respondent: Staci Ford, Affiliated Associate Professor, Department of History and School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU

Moderator: Alastair McClure, Assistant Professor, Department of History, School of Humanities, HKU

Date: 26 January 2022 (Wednesday)

Time: 5:00 PM

Delivery: via Zoom

Children can play an important role as agents of conservation with compelling messages to be heard, yet their voices and writings seldom appear in environmental histories. Why? When historians do find children’s voices and writings in the archives, how do we use them? What can they tell us about children’s thoughts, beliefs, hopes, and feelings about animals, nature, and their relationship with the non-human world?

In this talk, I will examine the pivotal role of schoolchildren in saving Japan’s Red-crowned Crane from the brink of extinction. Using children’s writings and first-hand observations, I will demonstrate how children captivated the nation with their evocative narratives about nature and wildlife. I argue that children succeeded in mobilizing public support because they elicited empathy, motivated people to care, and galvanized them to act. In turn, national recognition in the form of prestigious awards, media coverage, donations, and visits from overseas experts empowered children and helped reinforce the belief that they possessed the power to affect change and make a difference. Children’s role as charismatic conservationists endures in Hokkaido and may well serve as a model for other conservation efforts today.

Janet Borland is an award-winning historian of modern Japan whose research focuses on fundamental relationships between people and the natural and built environment. Her first book, Earthquake Children: Building Resilience from the Ruins of Tokyo (Harvard University Asia Center, 2020), won the 2020 Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities First Book Prize, the 2020 Grace Abbott Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2021 New South Wales Premier’s History Awards, General History Prize. Janet’s second book, Endangered Icon: Japan’s Quest to Save the Red-crowned Crane, is a social, cultural and environmental history covering the twentieth century. 

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