Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Maps and Metaphors of the "Small Eastern Sea" in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868) [*]

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Maps and Metaphors of the "Small Eastern Sea" in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868) [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This article examines the ways in which oceans were depicted in Japanese geographical writings and maps from the Tokugawa period. It uses these texts to understand how early modern Japanese visions of the Pacific and of maritime Asian waters constructed epistemological frameworks through which the Japanese saw their place in an increasingly complex web of regional and global connections. In the absence of actual adventure on the "high seas," Japanese writers, artists, and mapmakers used the inventive power of the imagination to fill in the cognitive blank of ocean space. I argue that the definition of early modern oceanic space was profoundly ambiguous, a legacy that, it can be argued, left its mark on Japan's modern relationship with the Asian Pacific region. Keywords: Japan, maps, Pacific Ocean, Tokugawa period.

Whether an ocean people or a single man

Everyone longs for

The warm currents of the Pacific

Along with those waters rise our spirits

The day for us to go forth has come!

Our blood boils over with joy

Now toward the mainland, heroically

We establish bright peace as we

Cross the Pacific

Our ambition is infinite

We will show the world the resolve

Of our ocean people

Looking up at the battleship flag

We humbly take in the sight

Of the chrysanthemum against the ship's bow

The Pacific, our ocean

The wind sparkling on this very morning

Let's extend our imperial homeland's lifeline!

Fuse Hajime, "Taiheiy[bar{o}] k[bar{o}]shinkyoku"

(The Pacific March), 1939

By the spring of 1942, barely five months into the Pacific War, Japan controlled a vast oceanic empire more than thirteen times the land area of its home islands. Popular songs from the early war years, like "The Pacific March," were uplifting narratives predicting limitless progress for Japan, whose "ocean people" would "extend [the] imperial homeland's lifeline" all the way from Asia to the mainland of North America. But as some Japanese military leaders predicted even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan's dominance in the Pacific theater would be short-lived. Ultimately, the outcome of the war made it painfully clear that even at the peak of imperial rule, the Pacific was never Japan's ocean.

Memories of the wartime empire, together with the conventions of modern geography and the recent discourse on the "Pacific Rim," conspire to convince us that Japan's links to the Pacific are inherent and indissoluble (Cumings 1998; Dirlik 1998). But this assumption masks the ambivalent and, in historical terms, very recent nature of this relationship. Japan's systematic knowledge of and engagement with the whole of the Pacific Ocean as we now conceive of it was a relatively late development, a phenomenon of the late nineteenth century at the earliest. Before that time, the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) had rigorously regulated its relations with foreign countries.' A few decades after assuming power, it expelled Christian missionaries, forbade the building of ocean-going ships, and barred Japanese from traveling abroad. Pioneering historical research published in the last two decades by Ronald P. Toby, Marius Jansen, and Jurgis Elisonas, writing in English, and Tashiro Kazui, Arano Yasunori, and many other scholars, writing mainly in Japanese, has firmly refuted the notion that early modern Japan was a "closed country" (Kat[bar{o}] 1981; Tashiro 1982; Toby 1984,1985; Elisonas 1991; Jansen 1992; Arano, Ishii, and Murai 1992-1993). Although I do not seek to contest this now widely accepted thesis, I shift the focus from diplomacy and international relations--geopolitics--to what I would call the "geocultural" imaginary, as it was expressed in maps and geographical writings of the early modern period in Japan. Unlike the European powers during the Age of Discovery, Japanese domestic politics strengthened a general disinclination to traverse, explore, or incorporate oceans into Japan's territory. …

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