This highly attractive world map was published in Kyoto by the local cartographer Torakichi Maeda. It appeared during the middle of Meiji Era when Japan opened to the outside world, adopting many Western technologies and systems, and adapting them to Japanese styles and tastes. During this time, Japan radically transformed its general school curriculum to value the study of foreign lands, and the present map is an ideal example of the kind of pedagogic tool that would have advanced this mandate.
The map, with its vibrant colours and pleasing design, depicts the world in a double hemisphere projection. The outlines of the various continents, nations and colonies are not all that precise, as they are intentionally stylized to show the general placement of the lands in a clear and attractive manner.
Significantly, the work is one of the first Japanese maps to use Eastern-style charts to visually depict the comparative heights the world’s major mountains, lower right, and the length of its longest rivers, upper left, which were still relatively new features of American and European cartography.
In the upper right corner is a lovely diagram showing the world’s time zones, while in the lower right is a chart of national flags.
The map was drafted and published by 前田虎吉 [Torakichi Maeda], a boutique cartographer based Kyoto who was active through the 1880s. The same year he also issued the 京都細見全圖 / 前田虎吉 (Kyōto saiken zenzu / Complete Map of Kyoto) (1886).
A Note on Rarity
The map is rare. We can locate only 3 institutional examples, held by the National Diet Library; Yokohama City University Library; and the University of California-Berkeley (East Asian Library).
The Meiji Revolution and Education
The present world map appeared during the middle of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), which saw the most rapid and radical socio-economic transformation of any nation in world history. In the 1850s, American-led foreign pressure compelled the long ruling (but ailing) Shogunate regime to reluctantly open the country to international trade, following a three-century-long official policy of isolation. In the wake of the regime change that installed the Meiji imperial administration, in 1868, it suddenly became official policy to embrace the outside world with gusto. Japan rapidly adopted Western-style industrial methods, and in only a single generation transformed itself from having an industrial profile based upon agriculture and handcrafts to being one of the most advanced modern economies in the world. Whereas inquiry into foreign lands was traditionally discouraged, the Japanese people now thirsted for information and products from distant shores, spawning a great flowering of print culture on foreign subjects that included maps, travel logs and scientific works on Europe, America, Africa, Australia, and the rest of Asia.
In line with this social-economic revolution, the Meiji regime radically altered the national school curriculum to encourage learning about overseas countries. Significant amounts of both public and private funds were spent on new textbooks, pictures and maps showcasing faraway lands. While many of these works were either translation of, or copied from, Western antecedents, many, like the present work, were modified in style to give them a distinctly Japanese flair.
The result of the changes to the Japanese education system ensured that for generations thereafter Japanese people tended to be curious about foreign countries, with those with the means often going to great lengths to travel to see with their own eyes what they once saw in textbooks or on maps.
References: National Diet Library: YG913-12; Yokohama City University Library: WC-0/107; University of California-Berkeley (East Asian Library): East Asian Rare; A 42; OCLC: 21788916.