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  • A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600–1912
  • Luke S. Roberts
A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600–1912 by Kären Wigen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Pp. xviii + 320. $45.00.

Decades ago I frequently took the train from Tokyo west on the Chūō line to the Shinano-Sakai and neighboring Fujimi stations in the course of photographing and cataloguing documents for a history of the town of Fujimi. Shinano-Sakai means “Border of Shinano” and refers to the border of a province that ceased to have its own government office well more than half a millennium ago. Fujimi means “You can see Mt. Fuji from here.” Both names struck me then as comforting; one embedding the station in a deep historical tradition, the other conjuring a town nestled in a valley topography that invites one to gaze miles down toward the distant mountain that is now a symbol of Japan. The town is the current end product of a village that was created out of ten Edo-period villages and given the invented name Fujimi in 1874. It later grew in stages to a size that has, since 1955, incorporated the territory of twenty-eight Edo-period villages that no longer exist. Shinano-Sakai station was created and its name coined in 1928, long after the province of Shinano ceased to be an administrative unit. When understood in terms of their origins, the comforting names seem to paper over the tensions inherent in the destructive and creative historical change that has visited the region.

A Malleable Map, the title of this fine and provocative book on the spatial discourses of the Shinano region, emphasizes Kären Wigen’s mission of historically tracing the various narrations of the region’s geography. Far from picturing the dusty rooms of elderly male cartographers isolated in their work and discipline from the daily contours of life, this book begins with a story of late nineteenth-century political intrigue, beatings, and riots that revolved around the establishment of government boundaries and centers in this region. By recalling the drama and tensions that produce the spaces in which people like to locate themselves, Wigen demonstrates that the sense of stability engendered by the age of the name Shinano and geographic fixity of Fujimi is indebted to selective memory and forgetfulness. She deftly treats maps and narratives of Shinano from ancient times and the Edo [End Page 442] period, but her main interest is in exploring the region’s history in the Meiji period. Although much of her interest is local, she also interprets Shinano in national and world contexts by treating it as a site of “chorography,” which she defines as “the study and depiction of regions” (p. 15) that exist between what she calls the broad world-and-national scapes of geography and the intimate local understandings of topography. Wigen’s methodological argument is that a focus on such chorography permits us to analyze regionalism as an element actively engaged in the creation of the nation. Her main historical argument is that a chorographic restoration that linked the identities of modern prefecture to ancient province occurred along with the imperial restoration that produced the modern nation-state of Japan.

The first two chapters of the book explore the cartography and narratives of the Shinano region from the seventh-century creation of the imperial province of Shinano through the Edo period. Chapter 1, “Shinano in the Nation,” focuses on premodern maps, from which Wigen infers three paradigms for situating Shinano in Japan. She calls the most ancient “the view from Kyoto,” as found in what have come to be called Gyōki-style maps. All provinces in these maps are balloons of no particular shape or size. The interest is in showing the relative positions of the provinces on the roads that radiate out from the imperial capital of Kyoto, roads that funnel out control and funnel in resources. Even when Kyoto lost political and taxation power, it retained its place as the storied historical center of the islands, and the Gyōki maps continued to be reproduced and function in the Edo period...


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pp. 442-448
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