AN EXTRAORDINARILY DETAILED JAPANESE HAND-PAINTED MANUSCRIPT PLAN MAP OF NAGASAKI, WITH THE DUTCH TRADEPOST ON THE ISLAND OF DESHIMA AND THE CHINESE TRADEPOST TOJIN IN THE HARBOUR
Japan, circa 1800
Ink and watercolour on ten joined sheets of rice paper, 66 x 126.5 cm
In a modern Japanese box, L. 23.8 x W. 17.8 x H. 2.4 cm
This extraordinarily detailed map of the bay of Nagasaki, oriented to the north-west, showing the coast with the profiles of the surrounding mountains and with indications of distances across the bay was probably intended to be used for navigation purposes by the Japanese.
Two Dutch ships and three Chinese junks are shown anchored close to the fan-shaped artificial island Deshima, where the Dutch were the only westerners allowed to stay after the expulsion from Japan of all other European traders after 1639. One more Dutch ship and a Chinese junk are shown entering the bay from the West.
The detailed plan of the town of Nagasaki shows its streets, with the street names and individual houses named, and south-west of Deshima, the Tojin district where the Chinese lived. The plan also clearly marks the Shorikisha, the largest Shinto shrine and the nearby police station and Yahusho (the administration building supervising foreigners and overseas trade), as well as numerous Buddhist temples and several rice warehouses.
A colour scale at the lower margins shows seven colours; grey for the lands of the feudal lord, yellow Shimabara land, violet Omura family land, blue for water, red for roads, dark yellow for rice fields and white for the city centre.
In 1829 Franz von Siebold, the German scholar who almost single-handedly put Japanese studies on the European academic map, was banished for life from Japan after being accused of espionage for the Russians. It was officially forbidden to pass on maps of Japan to foreigners. During his court journey in 1826, Von Siebold had met many prominent scholars in the shõgun’s court, but he was most indebted to the court astronomer Takahashi Sakuzaemon, who became a friend. They exchanged maps and through Takahashi Von Siebold gained access to the library of the shõgun where he was shown numerous maps, many of which were copied for him.
After von Siebold’s return to Deshima, Takahashi was arrested in Edo for illegally giving maps to von Siebold. Warned by a friend Von Siebold was able to copy some of the most important maps and hide other maps, notes and books before his premises were searched and some important items and duplicates were confiscated.
The law concerning the possession of maps was not particularly well adhered to most of the time, although officially, still in the middle of the 19th century, it was forbidden to give maps of Japan to foreigners.
Nevertheless, at least one other almost identical copy of this manuscript map of Nagasaki exists and was sold in Christie’s London November 15 2006 (lot 145).