‘Myriad Countries’: The Outside World on Historical Maps of Japan

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 21 April, 2016
6:00pm BST - 7:00pm BST

Weston Room, Norwich Cathedral Hostry, Norwich NR1 4EH


Dr Radu Leca (Robert & Lisa Sainsbury Fellow)

About the Talk

Historical maps offer a vivid record of previous generations’ mental landscapes. They can help us understand the nature and characteristics of other cultures’ knowledge of the world. This talk draws examples from the collection donated by Sir Hugh Cortazzi to SISJAC’s Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Library in order to answer the question: How was the outside world understood in early modern Japan? The focus is on two periods of dynamic changes in early modern worldviews: the second half of the seventeenth century, which witnessed the emergence of a playful urban print culture; and the turn of the nineteenth century, in which a renewed interest in foreign knowledge was coupled with threats of invasion. My analysis shows that the urban audience’s perception of the outside world was shaped by attempts to assemble a viable worldview through the maps’ visual persuasiveness. Maps thus emerged as contemporary tools for thinking about a continually changing perception of the Japanese archipelago among ‘myriad countries’.

About the Speaker

Radu Leca is an art historian who has obtained his PhD from SOAS in 2015, focusing on the late-seventeenth-century impact of representations on the vernacular experience of space in Japan, expressed by the concept of the spatial imaginary. For this, Radu investigated a wide range of sources besides prints and paintings: maps, encyclopaedias and three-dimensional objects such as decorative stands and mechanical dolls. The focus was on changes in media formats from paintings to prints, and in narrative patterns from auspicious tales to stories of urban pleasure. A book chapter stemming from the third chapter of the thesis will be published by Ashgate in early 2016.

Additionally, Radu’s recent article, ‘Brazilian Cannibals in 16th-century Europe and 17th-century Japan’, Comparative Critical Studies, 11, Supplement, discusses a transcultural iconographic transfer through the cartographic medium, and the significance of this transfer for the formation of pre-modern identities. This interest in cartographic sources is met by SISJAC’s extensive collection of historical maps donated by Hugh Cortazzi, close examinations of which are feeding into a forthcoming monograph on the spatial imaginary of early modern Japan. This collection will also be the focus of an international workshop Radu is organizing at the Sainsbury Institute in June 2016.

Add to iCalendar / Add to Google calendar

The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.