Dutch impressions of the world in Japan
Kobe City Museum
Screen with maps of
the four continents - Concluding remarks
From the beginning of relations between Japan
and the Netherlands the VOC would bring maps to Japan to be
presented to the Shogun and his court. We saw how in 1635 the
Governor of Nagasaki gained information on a special map
illustrating military affairs. A more general demand was always
there for up-to-date maps of the world and globes.
One of the treasures of the Kobe City Museum is
a screen decorated with a map of the
world. On the reverse, there are four cities and figures in
different costumes. This screen is based on a wall map of the world
by Willem Jansz Blaeu, of 1607.
In the initial stages of Dutch-Japanese
relations, VOC officials in Asia took good notice of the Japanese
interest in maps. They had regular requests for these from the
Netherlands. Some requests for Dutch wall maps are documented in
the archives. In 1637 the governor-general in Batavia asked for six
world maps. He wanted to use them as diplomatic gifts in the
fortress town of Golconda (India) and Japan.
Seven years later we find a similar and more
specific request. In 1644 the governor-general requested new
presents for Japan: among these a silver ship for the young shogun,
several large globes and two large maps of the world. He said he
wanted the kind of map usually seen in Dutch houses hanging on the
wall like paintings. The maps should be decorated with figures in
costumes of the different nations in the world. But, he added,
please be careful that there are no crucifixes or saints depicted
on the maps. The governor general did not want to provoke the
Japanese, who had just thrown out the Catholic Portuguese.
This last request is an interesting one. It
gives us a contemporary impression of how people judge maps: this
kind of world map was seen as not very different from a painting.
We can be quite sure which world maps were actually sent following
this request to be used in Japan: the wall map of the world that
was published by Joan Blaeu in 1648. This beautifully hand coloured
map is preserved in the Tokyo National Museum.
There are no copies still in Japan of another
wall map by Joan Blaeu that was published in 1646, an updated
edition of his father's world map of 1619. The question arises: why
didn't Dutch officials in Amsterdam respond to the request of 1644
and send this world map of 1646? The answer is simple. This map is
not free from crucifixes and saints. For instance, it shows the
mythical King of Abyssinia (Africa) seated on horseback, with a
crucifix in his right hand. The anti-Catholic policy of the
Tokugawa administration made it impossible to bring maps to Japan
that had such illustrations. The governor general in 1644 made sure
that this message would not be misunderstood in Amsterdam.
North of Japan, Blaeu depicts a Japanese
champan. This illustration is also there on the original map of
1619. The illustration is copied from one in the journal of the
Dutch navigator Olivier van Noort. In December 1600 Van Noort met
up with this Japanese ship in the Bay of Manila. The Japanese
captain and Van Noort exchanged gifts: Van Noort gave him a banner
with the colours of Prince Maurice and in return he received an
eight-year-old Japanese boy.
The Blaeu wall map of 1648 has been kept as a
precious possession by the Tokugawa government. The shogun or
someone close to him also had copies made of this map.
As we saw, Japanese charts betray no influences
of Dutch ones. But the explorations by the VOC of the islands of
Indonesia, the Gulf of Tonkin, Taiwan and the southwestern coast of
Japan did reach Japan through Blaeu's world map of 1648. Joan Blaeu
used the VOC charts of Visscher, De Vries and others to improve the
depiction of the Far East.
This does not mean that world maps by Blaeu were
in fact primarily valued as sources of information to be
scrutinized for improved delineation of coastlines and islands. It
seems that in the seventeenth century and maybe the first half of
the eighteenth century. Japanese authorities valued the Dutch wall
maps just as much for other reasons: for their beauty, their size
and their impression of the world. With this last aspect I suggest
that these wall maps could have been used as background in meetings
with Dutch VOC officials. With the help of such a map, Dutch
officials could explain, for instance, political events that had
recently been taken place. The shogun and his court were keenly
interested in these. They had no real need to keep up with minute
changes on the face of the world map.
maps of the four continents
The Kobe City Museum possesses a screen that
confirms how high-up Japanese officials valued Dutch maps as much
for their literary and artistic qualities as for their geographical
information. It shows the four continents Europe, America, Asia and
Africa. Around each continent there are smaller illustrations that
show people in the costumes of the different regions of the
This screen was made by a very skilful and
original Japanese artist. He simply copied Dutch examples - the
maps and the borders with the costumes but the top seems to be a
free compilation from different sources.
The maps are copied from Dutch wall maps of the
continents. Frederick de Wit and others published these maps,
copying each other. De Wit's map of Europe of circa 1670 and his
maps of the other three continents was also copied by Gerard Valk.
The set of Valk of circa 1695 is in its geographical content a copy
of De Wit. However the decorations are changed. The Japanese artist
copied the maps of Valk to make his maps of the continents.
Wall map of Europe by Valk.
Probably the maps of Valk were ones presented by
Dutch officials of the VOC. Not only did the Dutch present printed
maps. On a few occasions they also presented manuscript maps. In
1663 for instance the Dutch presented 21 painted maps of which we
do know the prices but not their content. 11 large ones and 10
smaller ones. The large ones were valued at circa 30 pounds a piece
: a sum for which you could buy a good painting in those days.
After 1630 the VOC rapidly improved its
cartographical knowledge of the Far East in order to expand its
trade in that area with the least risks to the ships involved. The
improved Dutch charts of those years influenced the geographical
information contained in Dutch printed maps of the period. Detailed
maps and views of places in the Far East, like Taiwan and Osaka,
made by Dutch artists, reached the Netherlands as well. These
painted maps and views decorated interiors in order to display the
history and the glory of Dutch expansion.
Dutch VOC chart makers used Japanese knowledge.
Japanese chart makers on the other hand seem not to have been
influenced by Dutch charts.
In the seventeenth century the shogun and
members of his court certainly enjoyed Dutch maps, but less for the
minute geographical details they contained than for their artistic
representation that offered an encyclopedic impression of the world
outside. For that reason they ordered Japanese artists to imitate
and 'translate' these maps onto screens.
The celebration of the 400 year cultural and economical exchange
between Japan and the Netherlands has induced us to compose some
web pages and a Sale catalogue index offering a number of
beautiful, rare and important items with an accent on this unique
relationship between both countries.
The Paulus Swaen company is for a long time specialized in the
Japanese / Netherlands relationship in the 17th and 18th century,
The year 2009 marked its 400th anniversary of a Trade relations, with cultural and economical exchange
between Japan and the Netherlands and has induced us to compose some
web pages and a Sale catalogue offering a number of beautiful, rare
and important items with an accent on this unique relationship
between both countries.
Please click to view the following subjects: Sale catalogue index - japan maps - japan town views -
We have made informative articles regarding the following