Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The End of the Edo Period: Growing Curiosity in Japan

For roughly 250 years Japan was subject to one ruling family. The Tokugawa family was known for imposing rigid social orders and strict isolationism from foreign contact and trade. The little contact they had with Europeans from 1603-1868 came from Dejima, a small man-made island in Nagasaki's harbor. This island was home to the Dutch East India Company. Any other Europeans that docked in a Japanese port during the Edo period would be put to death without a trial. The complete isolationism nurtured a boom in Japanese culture. Art, entertainment, and fashion became points of interest among urban populations. Around the early 1800's European intrusions were on the rise. To understand these new "barbarians", Rangaku (Dutch studies) became important to the Japanese in understanding and defeating the foreign enemies. Growing interest in the west only increased after a peasant uprising in 1830 forced the Japanese to acknowledge the growing issues within their country. As more citizens looked to the West for answers, Japanese officials tightened their anti-foreigner policy once again. This only caused more unrest amongst the people and invited in more westerners trying to establish trade relations.
This map completed in 1850 is a prime example of the increasing interest the Japanese were developing in the West. This world map displays a fusion of the artistic culture that had blossomed in the Edo period and the desire to understand how the rest of the world functioned and interacted with each other. Instead of focusing solely on Japan's towns and provinces, the mapmaker indicates the value of trading internationally while stylistically holding on to Japanese traditions. Many maps made in this era disregard geographical accuracy, believing that this was inevitable. In comparison to European made maps from nearly a century prior, the level of accuracy is years advanced.
 Japan began reluctantly opening its borders to American traders. This hurt Japan's economy but opened up the country to Western culture. By 1859, western texts and literature were being translated by the government and western military schools led by the Dutch were allowed. Japan ushered in a new era in 1868 when the final Tokugawa resigned and all Japanese borders were opened. Maps from this point on take on a very distinctly European look and cartographers begin paying close attention to the accuracy of their pieces.

This map from 1850 is a rare piece representing a time in which Japan was on the brink of a major cultural change. It retains the Edo period's style and execution while acknowledging Japan's place in the booming world trade markets.

In addition to this historical map, Arader Galleries also offers a selection of Japanese works from this era on a variety of subjects including: whaling, botanicals, livestock, and commerce. For more information, please contact Arader Galleries.

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