Sekai bankoku Nihon yori kaijō risū ōjō jinbutsu zu ❀ 世界萬國日本ヨリ海上里數王城人物圖
Map of all the countries of the world and pictures of the peoples, showing the capitals and the distances from Japan
As one of Japan’s most significant periods, the Tokugawa era has left various cultural values in the global community through its distinct lifestyle and development in Japanese history. Drawing attention specifically on the partial reality portrayed in the visual materials created and preserved from the remarkable era, it is clear that the economical, political, and social dimensions of the Japanese people living during the period was unique from foreign countries.
The Japanese map of the Tokugawa Era, “Sekai bankoku nihon yori kaijo risu ojo jinbutsu zu” was created by Eijudō in 1850 (late Edo period). It can be accessed in UBC’s Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era Collection within the Rare Books and Special Collections in Irving K. Barber library.
This map project will examine this map with the aim to educate the public about this particular world map’s approach in visualizing the Japanese people’s conception of the world. Moreover, the aspects: conflict, characterization, and color will be analyzed to demonstrate how the world map portrays the racist and patriotic viewpoint that the Japanese people held during late Edo period as a result of the isolation policy.
CONFLICT #1 Japan vs. Foreign countries
Firstly, the conflict between Japan and foreign countries is apparent on this world map, signifying the patriotic and racist aspect of the Japanese people living during the Edo period. In regards to the portrayal of the world and people in this map, Japanese people considered their nation as superior in comparison to foreign nations as a result of the isolation policy. This is evident in the position of Japan on the map, as it is centered, highlighting its supremacy. Moreover, the size of the Japanese land is enormous, stressing their power and control in the world. It also indicates that the creator of this map, as well as many other Japanese people during the Edo period were unaware about their country’s geographical features relative to foreign nations.
CONFLICT #2 Known vs. Unknown
Furthermore, the Sakoku years, or period of national isolation of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate’s rule resulted in the Japanese people’s unfamiliarity of the foreign countries. The conflict between the known and unknown world is demonstrated in this map, proving the lack of knowledge that Japanese people had regarding foreign land and cultures. This map shows the clear distinction between the existing nations and fantastical nations through the portrayal of people belonging to 12 different regions. The Dutch, Tatars, North Americans, South Americans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Indians are existing inhabitants living in existing countries. In contrast, the lands of women, dwarfs, cyclops, and giants are fantastical nations which do not exist in reality. They are fictional realms inspired by foreign folktales, illustrated to portray the imagined countries in the unknown regions of the world.
Considering the features of the fantastical nations and creatures, it is clear that Japanese people, including the creator of this map, had some kind of a opportunity to read foreign tales. For instance, this world map in particular portrays nations and creatures from the fictional stories in: Saiyuki, Greek mythologies, Gulliver’s Travels, and Flowers in the Mirror. Thus, despite the strict regulation limiting access to foreign material during the isolation period, this map shows that some people had access to foreign material in the Edo society, which had an impact on the people’s perception of the world outside Japan.
In addition, the conflict between the known and unknown worlds is reflected through the absence of the portrayals of the people belonging to regions such as Melanesia, North Pole and South Pole. In regards to Melanesia, which includes countries like Fiji and Papua New Guinea, is assumed to have been unknown to the Japanese because they are located in the southern half area of the equator, opposite from Japan. Moreover, it is presumed that Melanesia was of little significance during the Tokugawa era because Japan was mainly limited to trading with the Dutch.
Overall, the two conflicts both demonstrate the influence that the isolation policy had on Japanese people. It widened the relations between Japan and foreign countries, resulting in the Japanese people’s unawareness of foreign lands and cultures. Additionally, it highlights Japan in a superior manner, and compares other nation’s people and culture in relation to Japanese people and cultures. As an outcome, the patriotic and judgemental attitude in Edo societies influenced people including this artist to create an inaccurate depiction of the world.
CHARACTERIZATION – The 12 Nationalities
Existing: China, Korea, India, Vietnam, Tatar, South America, North America, Dutch
Fictional: Land of Giants, Land of Dwarfs, Land of Cyclops, Land of Women
Secondly, the characterization of the people representing 12 nationalities portrayed on this world map indicates the Japanese people’s narrow minded, conservative view of the foreign world. In general, it is possible to distinguish each ethnic group according to their body size, gender depiction, clothes, headdresses, bows, swords, shields, and spears. For instance, the man representing people of the Qing Dynasty is characterized as having an elegant and calm traits based on his facial expression, posture, and upper-class outfit. Similarly, the Korean man appears well-off and cheerful, however also has a characteristic of being dependable according to the portrayal of the small female-like figure leaning against him.
←From left side: Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese
Contrasting to the characteristics of the Chinese and Korean men, the Indian man depicted on the map is characterized as a stranger, regardless of his wealthy-looking visuals, due to his unique headdress and clothing which is unfamiliar to the East asian culture. Furthermore, the Vietnamese man is all the more unusual looking, indicated through his grim facial expression and wild outfit that is not similar to the East Asian robe-style outfits. Moreover, the Tatars, the Turkic-speaking tribes in west-central Russia, are also have a barbaric, country-side appearance. Thus, the characteristics of the non-East asian men are not positive compared to the East asian men, which shows their lack of intimacy with Japanese people.
←South American North American→
Transitioning to the South American man illustrated on the bottom right, it is noteworthy that they appear asian. Also, the description next to the illustration indicates that South American men are handsome. Although it is arguable whether the Japanese were familiar with these nationalities, especially according to the inaccurate depiction of the common South American people, it is evident that Japanese people had a rather positive impression towards South American people and culture. Similarly, the North American man illustrated on the top right area looks very Asian. Additionally, he is holding several weapons on his back, which emphasizes his military power. Hence, it denotes that, despite their limited knowledge and understanding of the Americans, Japanese people imagined people of American regions to be either feared or respected because of their attractive physical traits and military power.
Additionally, the similar clothing and headdresses worn by the North American man and Dutch man reflects that Japanese people understood North America as a westernized nation. The Dutch man illustrated on the top left area of the map is holding an item in his hand. This is assumed to be either money or an item for trade, representing Dutch as the important trading partner for Japan during the Edo period. In fact, it is stated in the description that people from Holland visit Nagasaki every year, and visit Edo as well every five years during the sakoku era.
←From left side: Women, Cyclops, Giant, Dwarfs
Regarding the portrayal of fictional entities belonging to the fictional lands, it demonstrates the creator of this map characterizing them in specific ways according to their portrayal in the original foreign folktales. The giants are very tall and asian-looking, based on their robe clothing, dark hair color, and bun hair style. They measure one jō and 2 shaku (3 m 60 cm) in height. They are not wild looking in this map, which makes adds verisimilitude, causing viewers of this map to believe in the existence of such abnormal beings. In contrast, the dwarfs only measure one shaku and two sun (36cm) in height, and are characterized as weak through a humorous tone because they are chased by a crane. In fact, the bankoku sozu states that they walk together in groups to avoid the cranes from attacking them.
Also, another entity contrasting from the giant is the cyclops. Regardless of their similar large body size, they appear less human-like and are given barbaric and frightening traits in comparison to the giants. Lastly, the two women belonging to the land of women are topless, and appear asian according to their dark hair color. As it was not perceived as sexual to be topless in many non-western cultures in ancient asian cultures, it is evident that these women are inspired from asian texts. As a matter of fact, they appear to be conversing without disruption, and have no necessity to carry weapons because of the peaceful lifestyle. Overall, the fictional entities all carry mysterious characteristics and display a certain culture which are not realistic in the geographical location they are positioned on the world map.
Taking into account the ways in which the people from the 12 entities are characterized as, it is understandable that the Japanese creator of this world map characterized races and ethnicities in a patriotic manner. Most are asian, if not Japanese looking, and ones which are not similar to Japanese people are portrayed as barbaric, dangerous, weak, or uncanny. It stereotypes foreigners based on imaginations and assumptions because most Japanese people were unable to socialize with foreigners, had limited access to foreign material, and illiterate in foreign languages during the Edo period. Thus, this world map is reflecting that Japanese people were unaware of foreign land, people, and cultures to a large extent due to the isolation policy.
In conclusion, the research and analysis regarding the Japanese map of the Tokugawa Era, “Sekai bankoku nihon yori kaijo risu ojo jinbutsu zu”, indicates that Japanese people living under the sakoku system, including the creator of this map, had an obscure perception of the world. The isolation policy implemented by the Tokugawa Shogunate resulted in the Japanese to become attached to their undisturbed culture, and ignorant about foreign nations. In addition, there is a higher possibility that this world map was used as a display or reference, rather than as a tool for navigation and higher education, considering the vague and inaccurate representation of the world and the 12 nationalities.
Eijudō. “Sekai bankoku Nihon yori kaijō risū ōjō jinbutsu zu, 1850; Map of all the countries of the world and pictures of the peoples, showing the capitals and the distances from Japan. 世界萬國日本ヨリ海上里數王城人物圖.” University of British Columbia Library – Rare Books and Special Collections: Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era.
Unknown. “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. https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/tokugawa/items/1.0213137#share
Kusano, Takumi. “西梁女人国. 中国神話伝説ミニ事典/地名編. ” フランボワイヤン・ワールド. Unknown.
Unknown. “Early Japanese Maps of the World.”
March 28, 2017
(Updated March 29, 2017)