While more attention has been given to the British, French, Russian and American communities in Shanghai, for much of the city’s history by far and away its largest foreign community was Japanese. For generations, many Japanese were attracted by the ‘Shanghai Dream’, the chance to learn Mandarin and valuable skills in such a vibrant economy, before returning home to stellar opportunities. Others, from more modest backgrounds, came to work in menial jobs where they could earn higher wages than at home.
The story of the Japanese community in Shanghai commenced in the 1870s, when Japanese ships began to frequent the city’s harbour. The first Japanese Consulate was opened in 1872, to facilitate trade and to serve the small, but fast-growing, community of Japanese that came to reside in the city. In the 1880s, Japanese companies established their Chinese head offices in Shanghai, spurring the arrival of many relatively well-educated and affluent Japanese residents. This decade also started to see the first of the major waves of Japanese migration to Shanghai, and a ‘Japan Town’s began to develop in Shanghai’s Hongkou District, located between where the Suzhou and Hankou creeks flow down to meet the Huangpu River, just to the east of The Bund.
By the turn of the century, Shanghai’s ‘Japan Town’ had grown dramatically, such that it was a major feature of the greater city and considered something of phenomenon back in Japan. The community was graced with a great honour, when in 1907 it was visited by Prince Fushimi, a naval officer and member of the imperial family. In 1908, the Japanese Club was opened to serve the community.
Upon the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the bombing of Shanghai in 1932, the Japanese community in Shanghai experienced (not surprisingly) a great deal of hostility from their Chinese neighbours. In 1937, Japan invaded and occupied Shanghai (a situation that would last until 1945), installing a brutal regime of oppression upon the Chinese population and tormenting and largely evicting much of the city’s Western population. By contrast, Hongkou’s Japan Town enjoyed its heyday, gaining largess by catering to the needs of Japanese soldiers and officials.
Upon the Liberation of Shanghai (August 1945), the Kuomintang evicted the Japanese from the city. While many of Hongkou’s Japanese residents had already fled, the stragglers were forced to beat a hasty departure, as anyone who remained would have been killed. Almost instantly, Hangkou’s ‘Japan Town’ was no more.
While Shanghai, and the rest of Mainland China was under Communist rule from 1949, for decades there were close to no Japanese people in the city. However, the opening the Chinese economy and society beginning in the 1990s has seen new waves of Japanese arriving in the city, pursuing the ‘Shanghai Dream’. Today Japanese residents account for 22% of the expat population, making them Shanghai’s largest foreign community.
The Present Map in Focus
The present very rare work is importantly the only map of which we are aware that specifically focuses upon Shanghai’s ‘Japan Town’, in the Hangkou District. It was published in Shanghai by the boutique printer Su Kanda, in May 1939, during the early part of the Japanese occupation of the city.
The map provides an invaluable and detailed record of the Shanghai’s ‘Japan Town’, in the Hangkou District, at its historical apogee. The work is titled as 上海日本人街便覧 [Shanghai Japanese Town Handbook], as the lengthy text on the verso provides sufficient information to render it a comprehensive guide to the neighbourhood.
The map embraces the entirety of Japan Town, shown occupying the territory lying between the Suzhou Creek (left) and the Hankou Creeks (right), as they flow down the meet the Huangpu River (bottom). The map labels every street and shows the tramlines, while black dots mark and label various Japanese businesses and institutions (including many new Japanese governmental/military bureaus opened since 1937), while some larger premises are shown as orange blocks. The listings below the map promote the various enterprises that had subscribed to the work.
Amongst the many sites labelled on the map are the The Huishan Wharf, on the Huangpu River, where the Japan-China Ferry docked; China/Central Post Office; telegraph office; Dainippon Airways Office; Japanese Shrine; Japanese Consulate; Hongkyu Market; Japanese Navy Club; Army Office; Navy Special Land Force Headquarters; Navy Officers Assembly Hall; HQ of the Japanese Army’s Chugoku Expeditionary Force; Kempeitai (Japanese military police) HQ; plus dozens of stores and commercial premises.
A Note on Rarity
The map is very rare. This is not surprising, as a fragile ephemeral work, it would have had a low survival rate. We cannot trace any institutional examples and are aware of the map appearing on the market on only a couple of occasions in recent years.
It is worth noting that the present example is in remarkably fine condition, preserving its original paper sleave.