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JAPAN – HAKODATE, HOKKAIDO: 函館市街全圖 / New Guide Atlas of the Hakodate


An attractive and engaging map of Hakodate which was perhaps the ‘Most Western’ city in Japan, having been the first Japanese port re-opened to foreign trade in the mid-19th century, as well as, due to its strategic location near the southern tip of Hokkaido, being Japan’s gateway to the ‘North’; created during Hakodate’s 1920s boom period before the city was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of 1934, published by the local map and printmakers Tōadō Takagi and Ryujiro Takagi – very rare.


Colour lithograph on thick paper with original Art Nouveau illustrated printed card covers, contemporary bookseller’s handstamp to front cover (Very Good, overall attractive, some wear and light toning along folds, some light toning to lower left quadrant, some old ink stains to verso and outer right blank margin of map not affecting printed area), 39 x 53 cm (15.5 x 21 inches).



This fine and engaging map embraces Hakodate, the port city near the southern tip of Hokkaido that guards the Tsugaru Strait that divides the island from Honshu.  For centuries until the 1860s, Hakodate was Japan’s only major base on Hokkaido (an island traditionally controlled by the indigenous Ainu people) and was, critically, the first Japanese port re-opened to foreign trade when Japan was forced to abandon its national policy of isolation in the 1850s.


The present map was issued in 1925, when Hakodate was experiencing a boom period due to its role as Japan’s gateway to the ‘North’, being the rest of Hokkaido (which had by then been long been fully colonized and integrated into metropolitan Japan) and Karafuto (the Japanese-controlled southern part of Sakhalin).  It was published by the local map and printmaking firm run by Tōadō Takagi and Ryujiro Takagi.


The map shows Hakodate’s scenic location on a tombolo (a sand isthmus) between the Hokkaido mainland, on the right, and the extinct volcano of Hakodate Mountain (334 metres tall), to the left.  The city’s stellar natural harbour lies to the north, while the rough waters of the Tsuguro Strait are the south.  The modern harbor, connected to rail lines features numerous piers and quays.  The city, which recorded a population of 163,972 in 1925, is shown to be laid out on an orderly grid of streets with modern electric tram lines represented by red lines.  All streets are labelled, as are the locations many key sites and major buildings.


Hakodate was one of Japan’s ‘Most ‘Western’ cities, home sizeable foreign communities and always hosting many foreign visitors, while its streets featured many Western-style buildings.  In a nod to this, a few key sites are additionally labelled in English (as is the map’s title), including the ‘Post Office’ and (in imperfect English) ‘Hakodate Stesion’ and ‘AHorse-Rece’ (Horse Racing Track).  A curious feature is the Goryōkaku, on landward outskirts of town, being a massive Vauban-style star citadel built in the 1860s by the outgoing Shogunate regime.


Curiously, even though Hakodate was a major international commercial port, it was still technically a ‘special military zone’, such that the mapping of the city was possible only with the express permission of the Japanese military.  As such, the present map is marked as having been made with the “Permission of the Commander of the Hakodate Fortress”.


Sadly, the great activity and prosperity implied by the map was not to last.  Most of the city was destroyed by the Great Fire of Hakodate (March 21, 1934), such that Hakodate would not be truly revives until the post-WWII era.


Despite the fire, many of Hakodate’s most famous Meiji and Taisho era edifices survive to the present day, such as the Old Public Hall of the Hakodate Ward (built in 1910); the Hakodate Orthodox Church (1916), having been originally founded by the local Russian Consulate in 1858 as the first Russian Orthodox religious site in Japan; and the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse (1869) at the harbour; so allowing one to experience a taste of the Hakodate as showcased on them map.


The map was published by Tōadō Takagi, who often worked with his relative, Ryujiro Takagi (who is listed as a co-producer here).  Takagi was active in Hakodate through the first few decades of the 20th century, producing popular works such maps, city views and postcards.  While he appears to have been reasonably prolific, the ephemeral nature of his oeuvre had seen that few of his works survive to the present day.


This map is part of regularly updated sequence of Hakodate plans made by Takagi, issued at least between Meiji 44 (1911) and Shōwa 4 (1929).  All editions of the map are rare, both institutionally and commercially.  We can locate only a single example of the present 1925 issue in libraries worldwide (held by the Hakodate City Central Library) and cannot find any sales records for another example.


Hakodate: The ‘Most Western’ City in Japan and Japan’s Gateway to the North  Hakodate long held a prominence in Japan’s modern history and economy well beyond its size.  Due to its strategic location guarding the Tsuguru Strait, it was founded in 1454, as the first Japanese outpost on Hokkaido, which was otherwise inhabited by the indigenous Ainu people.  However, for next 250 years or so, the Japanese were only able to maintain fleeting control over Hakodate, which was on several occasions temporarily occupied by the Ainu.  It was only in the 18th century, when the Japanese gained permanent control of the port, that Hakodate flourished as a major base for trade and the fisheries, albeit within Japan’s isolationist (Sakoku) system.  When the U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan in 1853 with a mission to open the country to foreign trade (by force if necessary), he found Hakodate to be a bustling nexus of commerce and, recognizing its importance, commissioned the first scientific survey of its harbour.  Pursuant to the Convention of Kanagawa (1854), Hakodate, along with Shimoda, became the first Japanese port to be opened to foreign ships.  Its cityscape soon took on many Western elements, with the arrival of foreign traders and consulates, who commissioned the construction of European and American style buildings.  Notably, in the city, in 1858, the Russians founded the first Orthodox chapel (later church) in Japan, a mission nurtured by the famed Bishop Nicholas of Japan.  From 1881 to 1884, Hakodate was also home to Thomas Blankiston the esteemed British naturalist (who was also a spy).  Unlike the other Japanese ports that were authorized to host outsiders, the foreign residents of Hakodate did not live in compounds, but rather co-habituated with Japanese people in the general community.  This spurred a great deal of positive cross-cultural exchange, creating a uniquely vibrant social atmosphere.

Significantly, during the Boshin War (1868-9), when the forces of the emperor sought to depose the Shogunate, Hakodate was the scene of the last stand of the ancient regime.  A key site was the Goryōkaku, a massive fortress, recently built to ward of a Russian invasion, in the style of the 17th century French architect Vauban.  However, indicative of the ‘archaic’ nature of the Tokugawa regime, the bastion was largely obsolete in what was by then the age of modern artillery.  The last vestiges of the Shogunate were defeated at the 10-month-long Battle of Hakodate (October 20, 1868 to May 17, 1869), leaving all of Japan under the direct control of the Meiji Emperor.

The new Meiji regime decided to conquer and colonize all Hokkaido, supplanting the Ainu people.  Sapporo, founded in 1868, to the north, on the fertile interior plains, soon replaced Hakodate as the island’s main city, for its location was better suited to serving the new agrarian colonies.  However, Hakodate continued to enjoy robust growth due to maritime trade and received a big boost upon Japan’s conquest of Karafuto (the southern part of Sakhalin) during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), as it became a staging point for the development of that region.

Hakodate’s Roaring ’20s boom managed to transcend the beginnings of the Great Depression but came to a crashing end during the Great Fire of Hakodate (March 21, 1934), in which two-thirds of the city was destroyed, accounting for 11,055 budlings, while 2,166 people were killed and another 145,500 (out of total population of around 200,000) were left homeless.  It was one of the greatest conflagrations in Japanese history, and it was not until the 1950s that Hakodate really began to recover.


Today Hakodate is a vibrant commercial port of around 300,000 residents and the regional centre of Southern Hokkaido, supported by a strong tourist economy.


References: Hakodate City Central Library: K29011 Hako 3001.


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