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Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps

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Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps
Edited by Karen Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas
University of Chicago Press, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-2260-7305-7

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 30, 2016

From all appearances, Japan is a country of amateur cartographers, from school kids drawing maps to seniors studying ancient maps, everyone in Japan seems to be enthralled with maps. This state of affairs is amply illustrated in Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps, edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas. This fascinating book tells the story of Japanese maps from the 1500s, a period when maps belonged only in the purview of the ruling class to the present days, when maps are ever present in Japanese life and culture. This unique book contains forty-seven essays by leading scholars in the field of cartography and Japanese history, and a slew of full-color pictures of both classical and modern Japanese maps, as well as a few black and white illustrations.

This history of maps helps to explore not only the actual art and science of cartography in Japan and how it changed over time, but these maps also help to illustrate Japanese cultural and societal divides, and how these divides also altered over time. The maps also help to explain how Japanese cities were, and are, laid out. They provide insights on how the Japanese viewed themselves and what their world view was and how it changed after Japan opened its borders to the rest of the world. These maps help to show how others viewed Japan, as evidenced by World War II bombing maps used by the Allies. The authors also touch upon how modern technologies and mapping techniques are being used to chart areas of danger from natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes, and how the internet and other modern technologies are making maps available to an ever widening audience.

Looking at the history of Japan through its maps provides a unique perspective on Japanese history and culture. This is a work that will not only enthrall cartographers the world over, but also everyone from history students and artists to hikers and geologist, looking for insights into how maps have been used in the past, and how they are likely to be used in the future.

The essays in this collection are written in accessible language making the book ideal for both academics, as well as lay readers without a strong foundation in Japanese history or cartography. Suggested readings are provided throughout for those who want to delve deeper in the various topics discussed in the book, and the book is fully indexed so that you can hone in on any particular topic you might be interested in. Along the way, you will get to meet, through their writing, many of the top experts in a broad range of fields related to both cartography and Japanese history. An excellent book, Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps will make an excellent addition to any college or university library, and in any library devoted to cartography or Japanese history.


Related Reviews:

Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868 - 1930, by Gregory Clancey.
A riveting look at how seismic activity, especially the 1891 Nobi Earthquake, affected Japanese cultural, political, and architectural development and how it altered Japan's relationship with the West.

China on Paper, edited by Marcia Reed and Paola Demattè.
An examination of the exchange of ideas and paper trade goods, such as books, maps, and prints, which occurred between China and Europe from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century.

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