“Effluent Disposal and Disease Prevention in Modern Japan”
Alexander Bay, Associate Professor of History, Chapman University
Moderated by Paul Kreitman, Assistant Professor of Japanese History, Columbia University
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
International Affairs Building, Room 918
No registration required.
In the late 19th century, Japanese doctors built a Western-style public health system aimed at acute infectious diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever. While fecal-oral route diseases receive much attention in our historiography, little has been written on the most important part of disease causation. This presentation examines how public health officials disciplined shit to sanitize both the masses and the environment.
Doctors measured the amounts of waste produced by individuals and families to build sanitary septic tank systems. They collected samples from the afflicted and examined feces for bacteria and parasite eggs. Doctors in the metropole evaluated the skills of countryside doctors, warning that even their skills in checking poo for bacteria or parasite eggs needed policing. The masses were taught how to shit hygienically, their previous bathroom practices were censored, and they were told how to properly dispose of their waste. The government legislated human waste collection and disposal standards. Cities built processing and sewer systems to properly treat effluent. Once safe, shit was recycled to support the rural economy. In short, doctors made shit knowable and thus controllable across the 20th-century. This is a crucial part of the larger story of sanitizing Japan that has hitherto remained unexplored.