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Reviewed by:
  • Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps ed. by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas
  • Morgan Pitelka (bio)
Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps. Edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2016. xii, 269 pages. $45.00, cloth; $36.00, E-book.

Japan has long been spatially imagined and described: the Far East, the land of the rising sun, the small island nation with four distinct seasons, the archipelago. Recent publications in English have begun to take seriously the scholarly analysis of Japan's spatial dimension. Works by Kären Wigen, Marcia Yonemoto, Jilly Traganou, David Spafford, Kate McDonald, and others have illuminated the textured landscapes, the spatial metaphors, the relationships between places and power, and the meanings of movement in a range of case studies from Japanese history. We are in the midst, perhaps, of a spatial turn in our field, with the goal of "trying to comprehend space, place, and time in concert."1

Central to any attempt to understand space and place in the flow of history is the map, a document that visualizes geographic knowledge. The publication under review collects Japanese maps in a format that is both broadly appealing and startlingly insightful. Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps introduces 58 mostly original Japanese sources in beautiful illustrations, accompanied by brief but rich essays. The book is neither a history of maps nor a history of Japan, but rather an exercise in what it means to think about Japanese history with maps, a rewarding experience that made this reader realize that teaching or writing about Japan without regular reference to historic maps is no longer an option. I discuss some of [End Page 389] the maps and essays below but will not provide a comprehensive overview, for fear of spoiling the journey.

A short introduction by Kären Wigen articulates the book's goal: "to introduce non-Japanese readers to the … treasure trove of colorful materials that makes this one of the world's most diverse and spectacular cartographic archives" (p. 2). The book is then divided into four broad sections, each of which contains two or three subsections of maps and accompanying essays.

Part 1, "Visualizing the Realm: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries," begins with a brief essay by Sugimoto Fumiko that provides a basic overview of Japanese history, focusing on the early modern era, but also includes appetizing details about papermaking, three-dimensional maps, cartographic decoration, and map coloration. Such details enliven the maps and essays that follow. Joseph Loh's exploration of an early seventeenth-century pair of eight-panel screens, "Map of the World/Four Large Cities," introduces a striking representation of the world in the mode of European nautical charts on one screen and views of four European cities on the second screen. This book that aims to introduce "non-Japanese readers" to the world of Japanese maps opens, then, with a historic map that aimed to introduce non- European readers in Japan to the exotic world of the West. This contrasts nicely with the second map, introduced by Peter Shapinsky, a navigational chart also from the early seventeenth century that was likewise influenced by the nautical charts of European sailors; however, rather than portraying an image of the far-flung world and its curiosities, this map was part of a genre of "cartographic tools that could meet the needs of pilots worldwide. These were maps attuned to contemporary navigational practices, grounded in the experience of local pilots and constructed from the waterline" (p. 17). From the beginning, the volume exposes us to the notion that maps could serve as markers of imagined wonders on the one hand or as practical instruments on the other. Maps also served to visualize notions of difference and belonging, illustrated in a series of maps that includes a 1561 Portuguese chart that seems to point to Ezo as a source of gold and silver; a 1786 map by Hayashi Shihei that focuses on Japan's early modern margins; late medieval maps of Ryukyu and their early modern copies; and two very different maps of Japan, one printed by Ishikawa Ryūsen in 1694 and widely...