Tuna as an Economic Resource and Symbolic Capital in Japan’s “Imperialism of the Sea”

  • Nadin HeéEmail author
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series book series (PMAES)


This contribution explores the role of migratory fish—tuna—and its materiality within the Japanese Empire. The historiography of Japanese imperialism features what could be called a terrestrial bias. Historians generally analyze Japan’s Empire and its expansion in terms of the occupation of landmasses and islands and the fight for natural sources, but the vast oceans and their living resources being part of the empire is a fact that is scarcely mentioned. Yet, this maritime dimension and living resources such as tuna, this chapter argues, were much more crucial for the Japanese Empire than generally assumed. Indeed, the very materiality of migrating tuna and its pathways through the oceans had steered human interaction with the fish. With this in mind, the chapter traces how it was used as a commodity, but also how it formed narratives of the Japanese as “ocean people” maintaining a specific relationship with tuna. It further seeks to show that it was tuna, in the form of both an economic resource and symbolic capital, that constituted not just the Japanese empire and its society, but also its global impact and power, to a barely acknowledged extent.


Tuna Japan Ocean resources Japanese Empire Migrating tuna Resource imperialism 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Free University BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

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