Bankoku sōkaizu

The Bankoku sōkaizu (lit. Map of All Countries of the World) is an early Japanese world map created by Ishikawa Ryusen in 1708 (Worldcat, n.d.). It was originally crafted from a woodblock print (Covers to Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708), which has been visibly repaired in places after heavy use. This map is actually a revised version of a map originally made by Ishikawa Ryusen and published by Sagamiya Tahei in 1688 (British Library, 1708). The Bankoku sōkaizu, published by Suhara Mohē, is 127 by 55.2 cm2 in size and has an attached cover with the same title (Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708). It folds into a booklet when not being viewed. The map is directionally oriented with East at the top, and West at the bottom. The blue color of the ocean and yellow place-names are hand-painted (Covers to Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708). The country of Japan (日本) is located just below and to the right of the dashed center lines and painted yellow, indicating the central importance of Japan to the viewer. At the bottom of the map, the distances in li between Japan and marked locations are given (Covers to Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708). At the top of the map, are two boats, the one on the right representing the boats of the Chinese (大清舩) and on the left representing the Japanese (日本舩). The map also features landmarks such as the great wall (depicted in yellow) and “the island of long people” located in the Americas (長人島)The map is designed to either keep closely for reference, or to spread out for decoration, but would be useless for navigational purposes.

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Figure 1.1. The Japanese boat features at the top right corner of the map.

Copies of the Bankoku sōkaizu can be found at the British Library, The Kokkai Library, The Tokyo University’s Yamazaki Bunko, The University of British Columbia’s Tokugawa Maps Collection and the University of California at Berkley’s Japanese Historical Maps collection. A reprinted version of the Bankoku sōkaizu can also be found in “The World of Japanese Maps until the mid-19th Century (Nihon kochizu taisei, sekaizu hen) by Oda Takeo, Muroga Nobuo and Unno Kazutaka and issued as a large table book in a case published 1975 (Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708; Unno,, 1975).

Ishikawa Ryusen

Ishikawa Ryusen, also known as Toshiyuki Ishikawa (British Library, 1708), was a prolific mapmaker during the Edo period in Japan. His maps were published out of Edo, and many are clear and detailed street maps of the city (Worldcat, n.d.). Since most of his work was published there, it is assumed that Ishikawa Ryusen also lived and worked in Edo.

Japan the early 1700s

The Bankoku sōkaizu was produced in the year 1708 (Hoei 5)(Bankoku sōkaizu, 1708), which was in the middle of the Edo period (Japan for Sustainability, 2003). The Edo period was a time of great stability for the Japanese people (Japan for Sustainability, 2003). The Tokugawa Shogunate had been in power for some time, and the turbulence of previous decades had come to a fortuitous close. In the 1600s, Japan had undergone a period of instability due to a lack of hegemonic or central power in the nation (Bragg, 2013). After coming together, Japan faced difficulty in its foreign relations. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, regarded as one of the “great unifiers of Japan”, led a disastrous military campaign against Korea (Kazui and Videen, 1982), in the hope that he could use it as a base to attack and conquer China. In this failed campaign, Hideyoshi lost 150,000 Japanese lives, including his own (Bragg, 2013).

The next “great unifier of Japan”, Tokugawa Iyesu, rang in a new era by dealing with opposing parties through diplomacy, rather than force. He strategically positioned people with favorable opinions of him side by side with those who did not, so that those who opposed him would have no opportunity to form a legitimate resistance. In this way, he was able to peacefully rule over 250-60 previously loosely held domains within Japan (Bragg, 2013). At this time, Japan had a population of nearly 30 million and Edo (modern Tokyo) was the largest city in the world with a population of 1.25 million (Japan for Sustainability, 2003). Tokugawa Iyesu originally opened Japan to the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English who were seeking to trade Japanese silver for other luxuries(Bragg, 2013). However, as Japanese society became more stable, silver, which was used to mint coins in Japan at the time, began to run out and this trade became seen as a detriment to the national economy (Kazui and Videen, 1982). At the same time, Christianity, which had also been brought by Western traders, began to be seen as a threat to Japanese society and was eradicated (Kazui and Videen, 1982; Bragg, 2013). Not long after this, Japan entered, 1708 a period of isolationism known today as Sakoku (Kazui and Videen, 1982) in which contact between itself and other nations was extremely limited.

During sakoku, foreign contact was limited to nations with whom Japan would trade, and nations with Whom Japan conducted official diplomatic business. No Japanese citizen was allowed to leave Japanese territory. Officially, Japan had diplomatic ties with Korea and the Ryukyu islands (Kazui and Videen, 1982). Japan also maintained trade with the Dutch East India Company and the Chinese through a small island off Nagasaki, called Dejima (Kazui and Videen, 1982). There, foreign traders were watched very closely (Bragg, 2013).

It was during this period of isolation that Ishikawa Ryusen made his Bankoku sōkaizu, a map depicting the entire world. Although neither he, nor his countrymen would have been able to travel to any of these places, they would have known about their existence through other maps and travel writings.

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Figure 1.2. Japan is depicted in yellow at the center of the map, and in greater detail than all other nations, showing the central importance of Japan to the audience (who wold have undoubtedly been Japanese).

Map Influences

The map appears to have a combination of Chinese and Portuguese influence in its cartographic style. Because Japanese people at the time were not able to leave their country, they would have had to rely on some outside source in order to learn about the world. The accuracy of world maps was not necessarily evaluated, as they could serve no purpose other than decoration.


Chinese cartographers were very advanced at the time. In 1602, Mateo Ricci, with the help of several Chinese scholars in Beijing and a world map he had brought from the West was able to create the first world map in Chinese (Norman, n.d., University of Minnesota, n.d.). This map depicts not only the countries of Europe and Asia, but also those of the Americas (Wintle, 2008). The center of the map is divided, like the Bankoku sōkaizu, in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving Japan and the Pacific near the visual center of the world (Blue). Like the Ricci map, the Bankoku sōkaizu is made from woodblock prints (Norman, n.d.), a technique the Japanese imported from China (Wintle, 2008). Woodblock prints are created by carving a mirror-image of the final print into a wooden block, coating that block with ink, and then pressing that ink onto paper (Asian Art Museum, n.d.).

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Figure 1.3. This character for West (西)has been cut in half by the woodblock, which was likely done in multiple pieces due to the size of the map.


Portuguese mapmakers may also have had an influence on the style and structure of this and other similar maps. For example, it was only after contact with Dutch and Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s that “bankoku” maps began to emerge (Auslin, 2011). Bankoku maps depicted all of the countries of the world, as opposed to maps that used to depict “the three realms of Japan, China and India” (Auslin, 2011). Many of these bankoku maps were published in Nagasaki, where foreign contact was limited, but allowed (Wintle, 2008). Although contact with foreigners was essentially nonexistent under Sakoku, by the mid 1700s, Dutch Studies (Rangaka) had become a strong influence in Japan (Wintle, 2008), and a style of maps known as Nanban was directly influenced by this contact.

Other examples of “bankoku” maps include the Bankoku sōzu and the Chikyū bankoku sankai yochi zenzusetsu, which can both be found in the University of British Columbia Tokugawa maps Collection.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10.16.26 PMFigure 1.4. Inclusion of the Americas was unique to maps of this time period, America (アメリカ) can be seen in yellow on the left.


Works Cited

Auslin, Michael R. Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011. Print.

Bragg, Melvyn, perf. Japan’s Sakoku Period. In Our Time. Rec. 4 Apr. 2013. BBC Radio 4, n.d. Web.

“The Invention of Woodblock Printing in the Tang (618–906) and Song (960–1279) Dynasties.” Asian Education. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, n.d. Web.

Ishikawa, Ryusen. “Bankoku Sōkaizu.” University of British Columbia Tokugawa Maps Collection. Edo: Suhara Mohē, 1708. N. pag. Web.

Ishikawa, Ryusen. “Covers to Bankoku Sōkaizu.” Edo: Suhara Mohē, 1708. N. pag. University of California at Berkley East Asian Library. Web.

“Japan’s Sustainable Society in the Edo Period.” Japan for Sustainability (31 Mar. 2003): n. pag. Japan For Sustainability. Web.

Kazui, Tashiro, and Susan Downing Videen. “Foreign Relations During the Edo Period: Sakoku Reexamined.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 8.2 (1982): 283-306. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web.

“Matteo Ricci, Li Zhizao, and Zhang Wentao: World Map of 1602.” University of Minnesota Libraries. Univeristy of Minnesota, n.d. Web.

Norman, Jeremy. “Matteo Ricci Issues the First European-Style World Map in Chinese & the First Chinese Map to Show the Americas (1602).” History of Information. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ryusen, Ishikawa. “Bankoku Sōkaizu. [Map of All Countries of the World.] [Revised by the Artist Ishikawa Toshiyuki].” British Library. N.p., n.d. Web.

Suhara, Mohē. “Bankoku Sōkaizu.” Worldcat. N.p., n.d. Web.

Unno, Kazutaka, Takeo Oda, and Nobuo Muroga. Nihon Kochizu Taisei. The World in Japanese Maps until the Mid-19th Century. N.p.: n.p., 1975. Print.

Wintle, Michael J. Imagining Europe: Europe and European Civilisation as Seen from Its Margins and by the Rest of the World, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 2008. Print.


Contributor: Georgia Horstman

(Edited by Elle Marsh)