The main map to be analyzed here is the Bankoku sōzu (1600) from the Tokugawa Maps collection of UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. Project realized by Jolianne LB.
Source:Unknown Author. “Bankoku sōzu, 1600; Map of all nations. 萬國総圖; 万国総図.” University of British Columbia Library – Rare Books and Special Collections: Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era. 1 May 2016.
About the Bankoku sōzu:
The Bankoku sōzu held at UBC is made up of a pair of screens which seem to be hand painted on manuscript-like paper. Also, these items, dated to the year 1600 here, are the oldest of the Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era collection (*1) . In a fashion similar to hanging scrolls, both screens have been painted in vertically which suggest that they could have been displayed on a wall as pieces of art rather than practical pieces. One screen depicts a colorful world map with the different continents and countries labeled and displayed in a circular quadrant with indications of the four cardinal directions. The second screen displays a diversity of ethnicity from around the world (forty couples) each labeled with the name of their countries and some with additional information. At the top of the screen there is a legend which seems to explain the reasoning behind such illustrations and its translation reveals that the purpose of this piece is to differentiate people, their culture and to “serve as an aid to the investigation of things and the accomplishment of knowledge”(*2).
Before observing further the pair of screens which constitute the Bankoku sōzu, it is important to note that due to the ancient nature of those documents, the dates of origin sometimes differ from one source to another and sometimes the artists are unknown. Despite this challenge, it is still possible to draw enough information from multiple sources to make sense of a visual piece of history.
When considering that the Bankoku sōzu dates from the year 1600 (*3) or the year 1645 (*4,5,6) depending on the source, it is interesting to think of how the Japanese people of the Tokugawa era could have had such extensive knowledge of the world when the historical context at the time involved limited contact with powers outside of Asia. For instance, the ruling class imposed multiple restrictions on trades and foreign interactions in the beginning of the 17th century (*7).
Historial context: the Tokugawa Era:
Moreover, with the sakoku policies (*8), established between the years 1640-1859, pre-modern Japan entered an era known as the “closed country era” (*9) and who left and entered the country was controlled. In other words, the Tokugawa era which was first led by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) (*10) (who set the precedents to be followed by his legacy) was an era of centralized and bureaucratized power under a military regime (*11).
However, despite such control on their borders, pre-modern Japan encountered and accepted to remain into contact, to a certain extent, with two main foreign powers besides China: the Portuguese and the Dutch. It is said that with those European encounters and with the transfer of cultural knowledge that followed that the Japanese of the Tokugawa era were able to obtain information about what the “unknown world” look like (*12).
The arrival of the Portuguese and the Dutch:
Records show that the first Portuguese arrived in pre-modern Japan in 1543 after a shipwreck (*13,14), in the southern coastal area and that the Jesuits sponsored by Portugal arrived a few years later in 1549 (*15). Following this, the Japanese started copying the maps the Portuguese brought with them in order to build their knowledge of Asia and fused it with their own knowledge of their waterways and coastal line to perfect their navigational maps (*16,17).
However, the missionaries and their “Christianizing activities” that came with trading with the Portuguese started to be perceived as threats to the safety of state established by the Tokugawa clan (*18). In other words, the new type of religious loyalty was upsetting the political loyalties with the shogun (*19), so the Portuguese faced multiple criticisms, persecutions (first martyrdoms in 1597) (*20) and restrictions (i.e. on trades, heavy taxations) and were eventually banned from Japan in 1639 (*21,22).
Along the side of such developments, other records reveal that the Dutch, aboard the Liefde ship, reached the eastern coast of pre-modern Japan on April 19, 1600 (*23) in the area which is known today as Kyushu. Contrary to the Portuguese, the Dutch and their Dutch East India Company (created in 1602) (*24) presented themselves and Holland as an independent country and power without any religious or political motives who wanted to trade with the Japanese (*25) (and at the same time extend their presence into the wider world to build up their riches) (*26). The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu is said to have been quite interested by what the Liefde was carrying, mainly by its weapons (*27). Also, because of how the Dutch differentiated their faith from the Portuguese (their rivals who described them as “pirates” to the Japanese) (*28).
While the relationships between pre-modern Japan and Holland were steadily flourishing, Holland also saw its enterprises grow and became known as the “intellectual entrepôt of Europe” (*29). Subsequently, the shogun ordered many Dutch geographical works and technical inventions like cannons to be delivered to Japan (*30). However, despite those seemingly positive relationships, the Dutch still faced some challenges because of their foreign origins. However, they had learned how to deal with the Japanese (from past mistake and from seeing what happened to the Portuguese) (*31) and the humility and compliance they displayed regarding the rules of the Tokugawa shogun allowed them to remain the sole foreign trader and main transmitter of Western knowledge in pre-modern Japan (*32,33).
Cartography as a secular and practical form of art:
Under the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu the Dutch and the Japanese had thriving trades in artillery and ammunition (*34), but other types of trades and cultural exchanges influenced Japanese culture and politics. Following the numerous restrictions and bans on Christianity and its religious art which used to be copied from Jesuits with the goal of promoting the beliefs (*35), the form of art which survived was a practical and secular one, cartography (*36).
One Dutch artist whose maps are said to have reached Japan through the network of trades is Willem Jansz. Blaeu’s (1571-1638) who experimented with maps of the world and created a version called Nova Orbis Terrarum Geographica in 1606-07 (*37). The original map is said to now be lost, but its influences such as its decorative aspect and the illustrated geography can be seen on the Japanese screens maps such as in the Bankoku Ezu: Sekai zu which is dated between 1610 and 1614 (*38).
When the two maps are compared together, one can observes how Blaeu’s map influenced Japan and its knowledge of the rest of the world through their reproduction of different ethnicities, the shape of the continents, the different types of boats and the knowledge of religious battles going on in the world (e.g. the battle of Lepanto at the bottom of the map) (*39). The style of art (i.e. colors and decorative style) used by the unknown Japanese artist of the Bankoku Ezu: Sekai zu also reflects the presence of the Jesuits who were the teachers and masters of this type of art at the time (*40).
Perspective on representing identity:
What is also interesting to note on this map compared to the Bankoku sōzu of 1645 is how the style used on the different ethnic couples reflects the perspective or the “gaze” used by the artist. For instance, in the Bankoku Ezu: Sekai zu the Japanese couple is illustrated in a very Italianesque manner which does not fit with Japanese standards or vision of themselves, but most likely fitted with European standards (*41).
In fact, the woman’s kimono looks more like a dress and she has long curly hair while the man is cleanly shaved (which in Japan was not as manly). However, in the later creation of the Bankoku sōzu, the artist seems to have reclaimed Japanese standards and identity in the representation of the Japanese couple while conserving some of the Western influences for other aspects of the screens (unfamiliar ethnicities based on Western’s sources) (*42).
In the case of the Japanese couple, the man is now dressed like a warrior, a bearded samurai ready for battle and the woman, who is assisting her husband with his sword, is wearing the appropriate garments and fashion (straight long hair and whitened skin) one is expecting to see according to her high ranking status (*43).
Matteo Ricci’s influence:
Before discussing the notion, of identity any further there is another comparison worth mentioning. That is the influence of the Italian Jesuit, Father Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) who lived in China for the major part of his life and who also produced a series of world maps said to have entered Japan at the beginning of the 17th century (*44,45). Ricci’s work, despite not being from Dutch origins, is part of the foreign powers which inspired and influenced pre-modern Japan in its absorption and rearrangement of new knowledge such as their view of the world and their position within it (in this case, in the center) (*46,47). It is also said that Ricci’s maps were appealing because some of his copies imported from China were in classical Chinese, so easier to understand compared to the Dutch language (*48).
The influence was so strong and long-lasting that Ricci’s world map Kunyu Wanguo Quantu of 1602 is being echoed in the Bankoku sōzu of 1645 (*49).
For instance, the colors, the shapes and the arrangement of the continents and some of the names appear to copy Ricci’s map (*50). Overall, the Dutch presence in pre-modern Japan in 1645 is not to be underestimated or forgotten since they were the only foreigners allowed in the country, but a wider analysis of the Bankoku sōzu can reveal some other foreign powers which have influenced the evolution of their cultural and geographical knowledge vis-à-vis the world and their own position within it.
Overall, this paper has offered an insight on some interactions and influences between pre-modern Japan and foreign powers such as Holland, among others nations, which has led to a better understanding of how Japan could have known so much about the outside world when the Bankoku sōzu was created. It is also important to note that this paper did not observe Japan’s cultural history past the creation of the Bankoku sōzu. However, there is enough information to think about how such exchange of cultural knowledge (i.e. cartography) has influenced Japan’s geopolitical space and its stance on the matter (*51) which set the context in which pre-modern Japan had its consciousness shaken and needed to rearrange and put order to this “brave new world” (*52) (through their perspective of it).
As observed on the Bankoku sōzu screen with the different ethnicities and its legend, the people of the Tokugawa era were already in the process of reasserting their differences compared to others (non-Japanese) (*53). Furthermore, the existence of multiple kinds of maps, whether they were from Western influences or not, in previous or later years reflects the fact that there was a certain degree of coexistence of multiple worldviews during the Tokugawa era (*54).
For example, the Tenjiku no zu of 1749 is a Buddhist World Map depicting a universe where only Japan, China and India exist (*55).
Yet, it was created at a time when Japan was aware of the existence of a wider and more diverse world. The fact that the Japanese choose to further learn about sciences and the world despite of how it challenged certain aspects of their Confucian values (*56) reveal that they interacted with such knowledge in a manner where they sought to “preserve their own values while at the same time, accepted and understood the necessity of Western techniques” (*57). In other words, it could be said that they might have been trying to shape their society with the best of both worlds, so that they would not fall behind foreign powers in terms of knowledge or abilities all the while remaining true to their Japaneseness.