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From Edo to New Holland

World map showing illustrations of people of the world

 Bankoku Jinbutsu no zu, ca. 1850-1868. M2 100/1850/1 

History often resists a neat, linear narrative, and this is demonstrated in the Library’s recent acquisition, the Nyō Horando collection of Japanese world maps. This collection, comprising 37 maps created between 1796 and 1889, depicts the world from Japanese perspectives during a time of great change for both Japan and Australia.

The collection incorporates maps of varying formats, including floor maps, accordion folded booklets, and a manuscript scroll. Many are large in format, a reflection of the Japanese practice of rolling out maps onto tatami mat floors to view, while others fold up into beautifully bound booklets. All display the colourful beauty of Japanese woodblock printing and copper engravings. Exhibiting a marriage of tradition, culture, religion and science, the maps offer a fascinating contrast to the European world maps more commonly found in the Library’s collections. 

Page of Japanese woodblock text and illustration

Sekai Miyakoji / Kanagaki Robun, 1872. MRB/277.

Japanese world map showing two hemispheres surrounded by text

Oranda Shinyaku Chikyū Zenzu, [1796]. M4 100/1796/1.

From 1633 to 1853, Japan entered the sakoku, or 'closed country’ era, during which the distribution of unauthorised maps was strictly regulated and Japan was slow to receive information about the rest of the world. Accordingly, many Japanese maps of this period reflect an ambivalence towards the outside world – for example details of Cook’s exploration in the south Pacific, and Australia’s eastern coastline, are missing from some of these maps. At the same time, this long period of peace and economic prosperity led to wider patronage of the arts and education. Maps for wayfinding, education and ornament became popular, leading to the mass publication of simplified and reduced versions of earlier maps, examples of which can be seen in this collection.

Included within the collection are maps attributed to, or after, the Confucian scholar Nagakubo Sekisui, (1717-1801). Nagakubo's close copy of a sixteenth century world map by Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci became the standard Japanese world map of the period. An example of a map modelled after Nagakubo’s is the 1850 world map Bankoku Jinbutsu no zu, [Illustrations of the People of the World].  Like many of the maps in this collection, Asia, rather than Europe, is shown at the centre of the sheet. This map shows a spherical world, and employs lines of latitude. However, although printed in the 1850s, decades after the circumnavigation of the Australian coastline by Europeans, the map persists in documenting a sixteenth century view of the world. The map shows New Holland incorporated into the hypothesised Great Southern Continent, labelled here as Magellanica. 

Along with several other maps in this collection,  this  map features commentary and illustrations of people of the world, derived from many sources, including Ricci’s map and Chinese folktales. A caption suggests that Australia is the territory of the kōmōjin, the modern red haired people, a reference to the Dutch. Other illustrations include pygmies, people from 'the land of women', 'the land of black people'. Another map, Sekai miyakoji [Illustrated roads to the capitals of the world], 1872, depicts Indigenous Australians standing in front of pyramids.

More accurate maps are found within the Nyō Horando collection, and these show the influence of Rangaku ('Dutch learning’), a product of the Japanese interaction with Dutch merchants. The Hashimoto Naomasa 1796 map Oranda Shinyaku Chikyū Zenzu  [Newly translated Dutch map of the Earth] shows Australia, still incorporated into Magellanica, but with a broadly accurate western coastline. It is interesting that the geography of Oranda Shinyaku Chikyū Zenzu is more up to date than that of the reprints attributed to Nagakubo, produced half a century later. These inconsistencies can be attributed to differing priorities of Japanese mapmakers - many maps were created for ornamental purposes rather than for wayfinding.

This rare and extensive collection includes many more specimens that merit further research. The material complements the Library’s vast cartographic collections, providing an additional perspective on the exploration of the Southern Hemisphere and early colonial Australia. You can explore the rest of this fascinating collection in the Library's catalogue.

Glenn Wells and Amy McKenzie

World map showing countries sized by Buddhist population

Minamienbudai shokou shūran no zo,/ Kabō Hyōdō,  M4 100/1850/1