cdm-tokugawa-1-0213137-0001full cdm-tokugawa-1-0213137-0000full

Click here to view these images in the UBC maps collection.


This double-sided Japanese woodcut displays a world map on the front and illustrated examples of the peoples of the world on the verso. It exemplifies the Bankoku-sōzu (“complete maps of the peoples of the world”) style of cartography influenced by European techniques and geographic knowledge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (Lindberg)

One of the most significant and representable Japanese maps from the Tokugawa era of Japan is the Bankoku-sōzu 萬國総圖. The map was printed from woodblocks format in Nagasaki, Japan and published in approximately 1645. This woodcut map displays a world map during the era on one side and illustration of peoples of the world on the other. As a viewer, we do not only see the locations and countries but also much astronomical information that was collected during and before the Tokugawa Era. Therefore, Bankoku-sōzu is more than just a normal map.

The Bankoku-sōzu was also called “The Complete Map of the Peoples of the World” and it was the first and earliest modern world map published in Japan. On the world map side, we can see a very similar illustration of the map of the world as we have in present days. We can see the continents and locate many countries. On the other side of the map, it has the illustrations of male and female couples from 40 different countries wearing their own traditional clothing. It does not only include existing countries such as, Portugal, England, Holland, India, Taiwan, Japan, and many more, but it also includes people from some of the imaginary places and countries like, the Dwarves and the Giants.

“Japanese cartography too was based on Chinese scholarship, and was also influenced by European techniques through the Jesuits and their dissemination of Ricci’s work. (Bankoku-sōzu) is an example from 1645 of these Westernized Bankoku-sōzu (“complete maps of the peoples of the world”); which were printed in Nagasaki and spread around the Japanese market in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dutch maps also heavily influenced the Japanese Nanban (“southern barbarian”) map genre.” (Wintle, 36)

Therefore, in this project, we will take a deeper look on how did the Dutch and Chinese influence cartography and the making of Bankoku-sōzu.

dutch flag + china flag → Flag_of_Japan_(bordered).png

Japan and Netherlands

The history of the interaction and relationship between Japan and the Netherlands go way back to the beginning of the 17th century when the first Dutch ship, “Liefde” arrived in Japan. When the Liefde arrived on April 19, 1600, the Japanese showed great interest in the ship.

Liefde dutch in nagasaki.jpg
The first Dutch ship arrived in Japan: “Liefde”

The military ruler, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 wanted to know more about its firearms that it was carrying onboard. “Will Adams was the captain of the Liefde. By and by he managed to win the confidence of Tokugawa Ieyasu inspire of the interference of the Portuguese, who denounced the Dutch as pirates. This was the beginning of exclusive trade relations between Japan and the Dutch East India Company that would last for nearly 250 years.” (Wanczura, 2013) Ieyasu gave permission for the crew to stay in Japan. Some of the Dutch crew then started careers with their valuable knowledge of understanding of maps, navigation, shipbuilding, welfare, and etc. This was when the Dutch cartography technique first established in Japan. Also, the relationship between Dutch and Japan kept growing afterwards.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康 1543-1616), the military ruler who showed great interest in Liefde.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC)

In addition, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had an important role in this relationship. The VOC was uniting many smaller trading companies into the one big organization that could ease the trading business and help them to lead the world’s trading businesses. Dutch government also permitted the VOC to initiate building relationships with foreign authorities. They then were allowed to trade in all Japanese ports. During that time, the Dutch were first one to be able to comply with Tokugawa’s hopes in the early 17th century, when two ships formed the first official Dutch VOC delegation to Japan. “The Dutch East India Company arrived this time with two ships, commanded by Nicholas Puyck, which had been detached from a 13 ships fleet which had left Amsterdam in December, 1607. Puyck’s ships, ‘Roode Leeuw met Pijlen’ and ‘Griffioen’, carrying a modest cargo of silk, pepper and lead. They were led directly to Hirado by two Japanese pilots, There, they received official trading privileges and encouragement to set up a factory.” (Pflederer, 2008)


Nagasaki Woodblock Prints

Another unique part of Bankoku-sōzu is that is formed by Nagasaki woodblock prints. “Compared with the prints from Edo, they are rather primitive design and applied techniques. These prints were already made in the 17th century; in most cases town plans were printed. Not earlier than the mid-18th century, the publishing firm Hiriya publishes the first print on which a Dutchman is depicted.” (Swean, 2016) After Bankoku-sōzu, the woodblock prints were more common in Japanese cartography.

Dutch Continuous Influences

We can see that the European, especially the Dutch had influenced the Japanese cartography so much ever since the 17th century and onward. Michael Winetle also states in his book, “From the mid-eighteenth century the Dutch influence became even stronger through the promotion of Dutch Studies (Rangaku) in Japan, at a time when the Western presence was confined to the Dutch merchants in Nagaski harbor. So despite its isolation from the West, Japan actually had a plenteous supply of European influence on its cartography over several centuries, as well as its own Chinese-derived and religious mapping traditions.” (Winetle, 37)

Chinese Influences

matteo ricci.jpg
Portrait of Missionary Matteo Ricci, Italian-born Jesuit priest who created Kunyu Wanguo Quantu

We shall also look at how was Bankoku-sōzu made back then. The person who contributed the most in making this map was the Italian-born Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci who was the first Westerner admitted to Beijing, China and the Forbidden City. He can be considered as one of the must influencetial person to the development of Japanese cartography from China. One of his most well known maps, “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World” (坤輿萬國全圖) was issued in 1602 and it was the first European world map in Chinese. He published this map with the knowledge he gained when he was in China. The result of Ricci’s maps being introduced to Japan after his death brought improvement on the Japanese geography and cartography knowledge. Beforehand, the Japanese believed that China, Japan, and India were the three main countries of the world; however as the European culture slowly developed in Japan, Ricci’s maps acted like a catalyst to help the Japanese to realized there is also a civilized Western world aside from China, Japan, and India. The Chinese or Hanzi titles of “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World” and “Bankoku-sōzu” have their similarities as well. Bankoku-sōzu also has the 萬國 in its name. The meaning of 萬國 is 10 thousands countries; which can also be all the countries in the world. The Bankoku-sōzu was also called the “Shoho map”, which “was a Japanese copy of a world map that an Italian missionary, Matteo Ricci, had made in China at the end of the 16th century. It was based on various Flemish and Dutch maps by Ortelius, Mercator, etc. Far into the 19th century it was frequently copied and reprinted so that gradually this 16th century world picture superseded the Buddhist three-culture map.” (Swean, 2016)

Matteo Ricci’s “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World”
Bankoku-sozu *The alignment and placement of countries and continents are very similar to Matteo Ricci’s “A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World”.

The 17th and 18th century was considered as the Era of Matteo Ricci’s map in the history of the Japanese cartography. This was an example of cartographic influences from the imperial China. The alignment and placement of countries and continents are very similar to maps that were created afterwards, Bankoku-sōzu is a great example. It simply had so much influence on the Japanese maps that were issued during the Tokugawa Era. One of the most significant examples must be the Bankoku-sōzu that was produced during the mid 17th century.

Act of Seclusion (1636)

Other than the Dutch and the European, the Chinese was also influential in the development of the Japanese cartography during the Tokugawa Era. At one point, the Shogunate re-advocated the relationships with China and Korea within the East Asian international structure by constraining the trade with Western nations. With the establishment of the “Act of Seclusion” in 1636, Japan had limited trades and interchanges with the Western world for the next two centuries. During those times, only the Dutch still maintained their access and relationships with Japan because they were allowed to keep a small outpost on an island in Nagasaki Harbour (Dutch knowledge and learning were “imported” into Japan through the translation of their books. The Japanese then developed themselves upon them throughout this period). However, aside from the Dutch, no other Western countries could maintain the trading relationship with Japan. Meanwhile, the trades continued within East Asia between the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. In addition, China was located at the center of the structure.

dutch port
Right: Onaji dejima oranda yashiki (The Same: The Dutch Residence on Dejima), Left: Oranda fune nyutsu (The Dutch Ship Entering Port), from Nihon sankai meisan zue (Famous Products of Japan’s Mountains and Seas, Illustrated), 1799.

It will require another few thousands words to describe the influential role of the Chinese through the trading relations to the development of the Japan; “The first major account of cultural diffusion into Japanese culture, which can be found in recorded Japanese history, was between 206-to 700 A.D. during Japan’s Yayoi and Yamato period, by 200 A.D. Japan was slowly beginning trade negotiations with nearby China. There was a large contrast between Japan and its more modern trading partner. The Yayoi people of Japan were a tribal society, with the separate tribes spread across Japan.” (Baker)

When we are looking precisely on Japanese maps and geographic knowledge, they “were embedded in a larger framework of political and intellectual order, geography and cartography were never separated out as separate disciplines or fields of study in imperial China.” (Yonemoto, 2003, p.151) The Chinese had tied sciences, geography, arts, literature, and cartography altogether. Therefore, these elements would appear on their maps and the technique got to Japan through their trading relations. ‘On the influence on early modern Japanese mapping of the comprehensive maps of China made during the Qing dynasty with assistance from Jesuit missionaries (Matteo Ricci was one of the greatest examples), Ronald P. Toby has argued that in the Tokugawa lexicon of “foreign” concepts, Chinese ideas not only served as models for change, they functioned as a default mode in times of transition or stasis.’ (Yonemoto, 2003, p.151) In short, the Dutch and the Chinese participated the most in the development of the Japanese cartography in the Tokugawa Era.


Works Cited

Baker, Mike. “Cultural Diffusion and Its Effects on Japan.” (Accessed 2016)

Lindberg, Schuyler. “Bankoku sōzu.” (accessed July 5th, 2012).

Pflederer, Richard. “Dutch and English ties in 17th centuryJapan.” (Accessed 2016)

Schley, Harrison. “Our Sense of Place: A Place Is a Spectacle: A Description of the Arrival of a Dutch Trading Vessel in Edo-Period Nagasaki.” University of Pennsylvania.

Swaen, Paulus. “400 YEAR JAPAN – THE NETHERLANDS.” (Accessed 2016)

Swaen, Paulus. “The Mapping of Japan.” (Accessed 2016)

Wanczura, Dieter. “The Dutch in Nagasaki.”, (Updated April, 2013)

Wintle, Michael. Imagining Europe: Europe and European Civilisation as Seen from its Margins and by the Rest of the World, in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Germany: P.I.E.-Peter Lang S.A; 1 edition , 2008.

Yonemoto, Marcia. Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in the Tokugawa Period, 1603-1868. USA: University of California Press, April 21 2003.


Contributor: Leonard Cheng

(Edited by Elle Marsh)