In opposition to historical materialism, the Kyoto School historian Umesao Tadao advocated the ecological historical viewpoint in his An Ecological History of Civilization. According to this study, a roughly equal power relationship existed between the nomadic societies of the arid region that stretched diagonally across the Eurasian Continent and the agricultural societies of the wet region. If anything, the nomadic societies were stronger than the agricultural societies and frequently invaded them. The history of the Eurasian Continent was the repetition of the power struggle between these two types of society. Only Western Europe and Japan avoided invasion by the nomadic societies. As a result, both achieved a smooth transition from feudal society based on agriculture to capitalist society based on industry. This approach is based on the important insight that Europe and Japan achieved modernization side by side, as well as the recognition that, just as Europe was not Asia, neither was Japan.
Although these two historical theories are diametrically opposed, it is interesting to note that most of the scholars who advocated Marxist historical materialism_the main stream of the world historical outlook of the post-war Japanese_were from Tokyo University, while the scholars influenced by the theories of ecological history have tended to be from Kyoto University.
Landlocked Views of History
However, both these views of history are full of contradictions. The aim of Marxist studies on the transition from feudalism to capitalism was the replacement of capitalism by socialism, but both the former Soviet Union and China have moved from planned economies to market economies and, bluntly speaking, are both aiming to achieve the transition from socialism to capitalism. Faced with this reality, faith in historical materialism has become an anachronism.
Ecological history, on the other hand, has almost nothing to say about Western Europe and Japan, which have respectively played the main role and a very important part in the development of the modern world. In An Ecological History of Civilization, Umesao Tadao writes:_The primary region [Japan and Western Europe] is like a greenhouse that successfully escaped aggression and destruction at the hands of the secondary region [arid region], and its societies are like boxes in the greenhouse. I see them as having grown and developed comfortably to this day under these favorable conditions, renewing themselves several times in the process. In ecological terms, the primary region has steadily undergone the process of succession. In these places, we can interpret history as having developed through intra-societal force, that is, by means of autogenic succession. In the secondary region, on the other hand, history was determined for the most part by extra-societal forces._Japan and Europe thus sprouted modern societies like colonies of plants reaching the climax of a steady process of succession. In what respects is this theory inadequate?
Umesao_s model is firmly based on land: its constituent elements of are nomadic society and agricultural society. The sea is not included at all in the _Umesao Civilization Chart_ (Figs. 1-1 and 1-2). According to historical materialism, on the other hand, the basis of feudalism is land ownership and the basis of capitalism is ownership of the means of production. Therefore, historical materialism is also a land-based theory focusing on the changing relationships of land ownership. Ecological history and historical materialism are both landlocked views of history that fail to take account of the significance of the sea.
Importance of the Sea
Is it really possible to explain the history of Europe and Japan without extending our viewpoint to the sea? The original model for the nation-state in Europe was the maritime city of Venice, and Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain were all great seafaring nations. Indeed, the history of modern Europe can be interpreted in terms of oceanic history from the _Mediterranean Age_ to the _Atlantic Age._ The sea has been just as important in Japanese history. As studies such as Ueyama Shunpei_s The Formation of Japan and Okada Hidehiro_s The Birth of Japanese History show, the seafaring inhabitants of the kingdom of Wa (the Chinese name for ancient Japan) played a decisive role in the formation of Japan as a nation.