In December 1997, the Toyota Motor Corporation released the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car. The Prius brought the promise of green technology to the automobile industry, making it possible to imagine an eventual future without fossil fuel dependency. Central to Toyota’s move towards clean energy were the neodymium magnets that propelled the electric motor of the Prius. This talk troubles the recent history of green technology by tracing its products and pollutants to their sites of extraction, in this case, the Bayan Obo Rare Earth Mine in Inner Mongolia. It locates the origins of this resource frontier to the Japanese occupation of Inner Mongolia (1937-1945). Normalizing relations with China reopened this resource frontier in the 1970s and 80s, which galvanized the technological enterprises that were so crucial to Japan’s economic rise. As this talk shows, this phenomenon relied as much on domestic research and design, as it did on foreign materials, with profound effects to lives and livelihoods beyond Japan’s borders.
Bio: Sakura Christmas is an Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College. Her book, Territorial Natures: The Limits of Imperial Japan in Inner Mongolia, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.