Talk at the Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture, Columbia University

On April 10, 2017, KUBS’s Edward Boyle gave a talk for the Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture, Columbia University, in New York. Entitled “Writing Japan’s Territory into the World: the cartographic creation of the Ezochi”, the talk built on the final chapter of his PhD thesis to examine the mapping of Karafuto into the Japanese state body. The talk focused on the person of the Shogunal Astronomer Takahashi Kageyasu, who in 1809 wrote a treatise on the geography of the area to Japan’s north, in which he sought to confirm the correspondence between an island the Japanese termed Karafuto and one marked as Sakhalin on foreign maps of Japan. Through his investigations, Takahashi was able to confirm that these two islands were indeed the same, and was thus able to represent the southern half of the island as Japanese territory on the “Outline Map of Japan’s Frontiers” that he produced soon afterwards.

The talk looked at the process through which Japanese authority over an amorphous barbarian space came to have demarcated territorial limits, and how this extension of claims was influenced by interaction and cartographic exchange with other polities. The fixing of the territory of the ezochi was made possible through the incorporation of this region to Japan’s north into a wider geographical context, which came to provide Japan with ‘natural’ limits. Takahashi’s finished map suggests a Japanese cognition of the linear borders we associate with the modern nation state, while the subsequent history of Sakhalin, both on the map and as a territorial possession, suggests that an insular understanding of a Karafuto existing as part of a more extensive island continued to exist right into the twentieth century, in a manner that suggests important continuities in the manner islands were envisaged within Japan’s political imagination.

Some astute questions from the audience focussed on the value of notions of territoriality to the analysis and the importance of Karafuto at the time, which drove the process of mapping that Takahashi represented. The beautiful furnishings of the Donald Keene Center provided the perfect surrounding for a talk focused on the place of Japan in the world, and the presenter would like to offer a hearty thanks to the organizer, Dr. Max Moerman, for putting it together.