During the First Sino-Japanese War (July 25, 1894 – April 17, 1895), Meiji Japan invaded Korea in a successful effort to remove Chinese influence over the country, with the aim of making it a Japanese client state. Korea was a vast land of great natural and human resources that Meiji Japan hoped to harness to support its imperialistic ambitions and its hyper-industrialized economy.
The Japanese intervention in Korea was of intense public interest in Japan, resulting in the publication of numerous books, magazine articles and maps (although most of these are today quite rare). It was in this context that Yoshiamatsu (sometime called ‘Yoshiaki’) Nakamura, a prominent Osaka printer issued the present map, which appeared in August 1894, barely a month after Japanese forces took Seoul (July 23, 1894) and at the beginning of the formal war that followed two days later.
The present map is importantly one of the finest and earliest large format broadly accurate Japanese maps of Korea. It embraces the great majority of the Korean Peninsula to a relatively large scale, with coverage all the way north to a line running from the lower Yalu River to just north of Hamhung (the extreme northeastern part of Korea, which was of limited strategic interest, is excluded). The geographic portrayal is impressively advanced, predicated upon the latest available mapping, including military and taxation surveys. While the cartographic sources are mainly Korean and Chinese, the style of the map is Western, indicative of the ethic of international scientific empiricism favoured in Meiji Japan.
The map divides Korea into its traditional provinces, and carefully details the coastlines and major rivers, while the many mountain ranges are expressed by hachures. The map marks the locations of innumerable cities, towns and villages of various levels of importance; the placement of army bases / outposts and the sites of famous historical military battles; while all highways and regional roads are carefully traced. Unlike most previous, and many contemporary maps of Korea, which rely upon vague pictographic representations of details, the present work is very precise.
The inset map, on the left-hand side, entitled 朝鮮全圖 (All Korea), shows the entire Korean Peninsula in a more traditional geographic form (thinner and more elongated, as opposed the more correct bulbous form which appears on the main map).
The present map would have been of great interest to anyone following the war news in the papers, who wished to geographically place and contextualize the action. It was also sufficiently accurate and detailed that it could also have served as a strategic planning aid to an official or officer involved in the war.
Yoshiamatsu Nakamura was a popular publisher, active in Osaka between the 1880s and the 19-noughts who issued all sorts of works, ranging from textbooks to fine art prints. Cartography was an aside for his firm, but he issued a handful of separately issued maps, including the present work, a map of the Chūgoku region of Southeastern Honshu (1894) and a map of Taiwan (1895).
A Note on Rarity
The present map is extremely rare, it seems that Nakamura published the map in only a limited print run, while the survival rate of such fragile separately issued maps is quite low.
We can trace only a single institutional example of the map, held by the National Diet Library, Tokyo, while we are not aware of any sales records for any other examples.
Japan’s Staged Takeover of Korea: From the First Sino-Japanese War to the 1910 Annexation
From 1392 until the early 20th century, Korea was ruled by the Joseon Dynasty. For much of the latter part of this period, Korea was a de facto independent country, although it was technically a tributary state of China. For generations that had the advantage of protecting Korea from significant foreign intervention, as the Chinese bothered them little, while third parties were hesitant to robustly interfere with Korea for fear of stoking conflict with Peking.
However, by the early 1890s, the Joseon regime was past its prime and was having trouble maintaining order over the countryside. Meanwhile, China, ruled by the Qing Dynasty, was in terminal decline, having been defeated in multiple wars and diplomatic standoffs by Western Powers over the last 50 years. That being said, the Chinese had recently carried out an expensive and comprehensive modernization of their military, creating the Western-style ‘Beiyang Army’ that they believed would halt their decline, a notion believed by many foreigners.
On the other hand, over the last 30 years, Meiji Japan had undergone the most extreme and rapid socio-economic transition of any country in world history. Hyper-industrialized and ultra-militarized, Japan was brimming with self-confidence and eager to become an imperial power with external possessions. Tokyo sensed China and Korea’s weakness and all that was needed was an ‘excuse’ to launch an invasion.
The precondition for the Japanese invasion of Korea was the Donghak Peasant Revolution (January 11, 1894 to December 25, 1895), a popular rural uprising which quickly mushroomed into a crisis that was beyond the control of the Joseon regime. In June 1894, China sent troops to Korea in order to help suppress the rebellion, which threatened Seoul. This gave Japan the pretense it needed to intervene. As it was, China and Japan had a preexisting agreement by which each country was obligated to inform the other in advance if they intended to move forces into Korea. Tokyo claimed that Peking did not provide said notice, so producing a casus belli.
On June 8, 1894, Japan landed a force at Incheon, and issued an ultimatum to China to vacate Korea. While China withdrew most of its forces, it still maintained a presence in Seoul, which offended the Japanese and gave them a green light to proceed with their military offensive. On July 23, 1894, Japanese forces occupied Seoul.
In what became known as the First Sino-Japanese War (July 25, 1894 – April 17, 1895), the Meiji war machine functioned with almost perfect, ruthless precision, while China’s
Beiyang Army was shown to be utterly incompetent. Japan landed large forces in Korea and totally outmatched the Chinese, quickly securing southern Korea, before moving north to seize Pyongyang on November 5, 1894.
China was soon driven out of Korea entirely, while Japan continued to press it advantage, taking China’s Liaodong Peninsula, in southern Manchuria, and the strategic port of Weihaiwei (today Weihai), on the Shandong Peninsula, in early 1895.
At the Treaty of Shimonoseki (April 17, 1895) that ended the war, China ceded the stellar natural harbour of Lüshun (Port Arthur) and Taiwan to Japan, while China was to sever its tributary relationship with Korea and to recognize the country’s full independence.
To be clear, during their time, Japan did not seek to annex or gain de jure control over Korea but hoped to make it into a client state. However, Japan had competition, as in the vacuum created by China’s departure, Russia exercised tremendous economic and political influence over Korea. Moreover, the Western Powers, weary of Japan gaining too much power, forced it to cede Lüshun (Port Arthur) to Russia, which strengthened the latter’s hand.
These tensions led to a showdown known as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), during which Japan utterly throttled Russia. This removed Russian influence from Korea, leaving Japan to consolidate its position as the dominant influencer. Over the coming years, Japan tightened its grip over Korea’s economy and political class. Tokyo eventually grew tired of having to negotiate power arrangements with the Joseon court and local stakeholders, and sought total control.
In 1910, Japan annexed Korea, deposing the Joseon Dynasty, and placing the country under the rule of a Governor-General appointed directly from Tokyo. The new regime was extremely brutal, violently suppressing the Korean people and eventually attempting to stamp out (thankfully unsuccessfully) their language and culture. However, the Japanese also invested heavily in Korea’s industrial and infrastructure development, transforming the country into a modern economy.
Japan would rule Korea until the end of World War II, in the wake of which the country was divided between the capitalist South and the Communist North, a situation which developed into the horrendous Korean War (1950-3). While this conflict resulted in North Korea becoming a shambolic hermit state, while much of the South Korea’s factories and infrastructure were destroyed, the industrialization process that occurred under the former Japanese regime gave the South Koreans the savoir fair to rapidly rebuild their nation into one of the world’s most advanced miracle economies, a position it enjoys to the present day.
References: National Diet Library: 43055768; OCLC: 703697151.