Chikyū Bankoku Sankai Yoch

The process of world mapmaking has been considered as an essential part of the history of human beings for a thousand years. In the Japanese cartography, it was highly influenced by the Chinese scholarship as well as the European techniques by means of the coming of the Jesuits as well as the spread of the work of Ricci. In the 1645 Japanese map of the peoples around the world, which is known as Bankoku sōzu, it is identified as one of the most important works based on a Ricci-type map. Basically, this map is identified to be a reflection of western map.which were printed in the area of Nagasaki and were spread across the markets of Japan during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Wintle, 2008; Papelitzky, 2014).

beans_1645_2b.jpgBankoku sōzu (1645)屏幕快照 2016-03-30 12.34.50 AM

Chikyū Bankoku Sankai Yoch(1850)

The purpose of this aims to look deeper into the ancient Japanese map named Chikyū Bankoku Sankai Yoch, which was produced by Nagakubo Sekisui in 1850. It will determine the reason behind the production of this Japanese world map and the why they have such worldview during that period. The reference used in producing the map will also be identified as well as the difference found when comparing the prior version of the Japanese world map. Further, I will examine the historical influence of the map. And last but not the least, the difference between this 1850 Japanese map and the Later worldmap will be identified.

The Chikyū Bankoku Sankai Yochi

Physical Attributes

The title of the Sekisui’s map, Chikyu bankoku sankai yochi zenzusetsu also titled as Map and description of geography of all the countries on the globe, or sekisui’s map of the world. The map is described as hand-colored woodcut wall map with the size of 930 x 1640mm. Other copies of this map are available at Waseda University Library and East Asian Library-UC berkeley.

On the upper margin of the map, there are a text, which is identified as a discussion of the geographical description of the world.The text is divided into two paragrah, each paragraph started by a circle mark. The upper part should be read as right-to-left order, the texts across the entire upper register of the image, starting with the title. The map dividing the earth into the north and the south, there is the equator in the center. Based on the northern region, you may see that the region is called the “country of night”, however, there is no record about the south pole, there is also no information about the people living here.

屏幕快照 2016-04-08 8.41.31 PMtexts indicate “country of night” and “country of ghost”

屏幕快照 2016-04-08 9.26.59 PM.png map title in Kanji, and the texts starting with a circle

屏幕快照 2016-04-08 9.28.36 PM south pole been described as n”ight country with no information of the people living there”

In the first version of the woodblock print map, it was published in 1779 by Asano Yahe and was carved by Murakami Kyube. There was also a preface of the map by a famous scholar of Confucius in 1775 (Bonhams, 2010; Wigen and Karacas, 2016).

As mentioned earlier, the maker of the map is named Nagakubo Sekisui. He was considered as the cartographer in Japan who made a great leap forward. He is also considered the founder of Japanese geography. Sekisui is credited with the creation of numerous maps and travel writings, and innovations such as the first Japanese map to employ lines of latitude and longtitude. kaisei Nihon yochi rotei zenzu “(“Revised Japan World Distances Picture”) .His map was considered as Japan’s first printed map in a grid. The linear grid, during this time, was considered as innovation (Yonemoto, 2003). His work kaisei chikyû bankoku zenzu in 1785, was widely distributed and ran to many editions, and based on a map by Matteo Ricci. The map is named kunyuwanguo quantu,which is a Chinese form world map. As such, even the Chinese characters used by de Ricci was also adapted in Sekisui’s map but sometimes, it is also translated into Japanese form. There are also some interesting description of Brazil that is included in the map of Sekisui. The notes on Brazil says that the inhabitants of the country do not build their houses but instead live on caverns by digging the earth. The way of life of the people of Brazil were also described in the map, stating that they their clothing is made from the feathers of the birds and in terms of diet, the inhabitants of Brazil are depicted to be eating flesh of men and not women (Wigen and Karacas, 2016).      

Brief Historical Background

For more or less 250 years, the Tokugawa family has ruled Japan. During these times, there was strict isolationism and rigid social trade and contact from the outside world. Evidently, the Japanese had very little contact with the Europeans. But with this complete isolationism, there was also a blossoming of the Japanese culture.Only Chinese and Dutch merchants were permitted to land in Nagasaki at that time. This created some opportunities for cultural exchanged, and allowed Chinese and Dutch cartography to influence Japanese mapmakers. In the 1800s, when the foreign intrusions became prevalent, the Japanese saw the need to understand their enemies in order to defeat them. This has only been worsened by the uprising of the citizens hence the seeking to explore more of the Western world for answers. The tightening of the anti-foreigner policy did not do any good as it only resulted to unrest hence inviting in more Westerners in the end to establish trade relations.

After the opening up of Japan to western influences did not only to cultural changes but it was also seen in the way maps are made. According to Papelitzky (2014), the European look of maps from then on have become very distinct and that the cartographers have also focused on the accuracy of their works. Accordingly, Sekisui’s map, which was completed in 1850, reveals to be a rare piece that reflects a time in Japan where it is in the brink of cultural change. The style as well as execution of the Edo period was significantly retained in the map and at the same time, recognizing also the place or position of Japan in the then-booming markets of world trade.

Undeniably, the 1850 map is reflection of Japan’s increasing interest of the West. This means that the map served as a display of the fusion of the Edo period’s artistic culture and at the same time the people’s desire to get a grasp of the functioning and interaction of the rest of the world. This map also representing a time in which Japan was on a major cultural change.The emphasis of the mapmaker during the era was more of the value of international trade while stylistically holding on to the traditions of Japan instead of just focusing on the provinces and towns of Japan.  During this era, it’s inevitable that traditional Japanese style world map were made with many geographical inaccuracies. Later, Japan entered in a new era when all Japanese borders were opened. Maps from this point have a very distinctly European style and mapmakers begin paying more attention to the accuracy of their maps ,especially after 1859 when western texts and literature were being translated by the government(Arader Galleries, 2012).

屏幕快照 2016-04-06 1.08.48 AMworld map made later than 1868


Even if the map was produced in the late 18th century and early 19th century, where there were still few foreigners in the archipelago of Japan, the first edition of the map was already exported in the European region. Sekisui’s map belonging to Philipp Franz von Siebold was eventually donated to the Leiden University’s library. The map of Sekisui was highly appreciated by Von Siebold and considered it as a veritable dictionary of geography. Even after Von Siebold has acquired other newer maps, Sekisui’s map was still continued to be consulted during that time (Wigen and Karacas, 2016). This implies that even the first appearance of Sekusui’s map, it was already considered to be revolutionary because of the fixed scale as well as spatial accuracy.



Arader Galleries. (2012). The End of the Edo Period: Growing Curiosity of Japan. 12 September. Retrieved March 26, 2016 from

Bonhams. (2010). Lot 2010: Japanese Map. Retrieved March 26, 2016 from

Kaushik. (2012). “Coming of Age in Cartography: Evolution of the World Map.” Amusing Planet, 5 November.

Papelitzky, E. (2014). “A Description and Analysis of the Japanese World Map Bankoku sōzu in Its Version of 1671 and Some Thoughts on the Sources of the Original Bankoku sōzu.” Journal of Asian History, 48 (1): 15-59.

Wigen, SF and Karacas, C. (eds). (2016). Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wintle, M.J. (2008). Imagining Europe: Europe and European Civilization as Seen from its Margins by the Rest of the World, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Belgium: PIE Peter Lang SA.

Yonemoto, M. (2003). Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in Tokugawa Period (1603 – 1868). Berkeley: University of California Press.