[Map of China, Russia, Japan, Korea and Alaska.]
A fascinating and extremely rare map of Asia and Alaska that was commissioned during the short lived reign of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu in what is known as the Keiō Era that lasted from May 1865 to October 1868. The map is of particular interest as it was published during a momentous time in the history of the Pacific which saw the redrawing of the political boundaries in both Asia and America.
To a certain extant it could be argued that with the sale of the Russian controlled territory of Alaska to the United States in 1867 and Russia’s focus on consolidating its power base on its East Asian flank to counter the influence by other Western powers, that a new Pacific centric era in geopolitical terms was ushered in. Not only would the purchase of Alaska by the United States and the cessation of the hostilities associated with the American Civil War, create the conditions for Britain to unite its North American colonies into the Dominion of Canada with the passing the British North America Act of 1867, but, the greater focus on controlling Asia by Russia and other Western Powers, would lead Japan to end its shogunate which had been in power since 1603 and embark on a modernizing program. In fact, the map makes specific reference not only to the purchase of Alaska, but also to Russian aggression in Khujand (Tajikistan) on June 5th 1866 and Jizzakah on July 2nd of the same year. The map also mentions the Russian re-organization of into three military districts of its East Asian territory on August 6th 1865.
As such, the map was published when the last feudal like Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, attempted to institute reforms that would strengthen and modernize the shogunate following internal dissension and a changing geopolitical landscape. In fact, modernizations efforts were part of the changes instituted to end the isolationist foreign policy known as sakoku. Tokugawas Yoshinobu, following the arrival of Comodore Matthew Perry and the singing of the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, used foreign powers to help in these efforts. For example, work to modernize the naval base at Yokosuka, the current site used by the US Navy and the Seventh Fleet, began in 1865 under the oversight of engineer Léonce Verny who was part of a French military mission headed by Jules Chanoine. It should be noted that it was Chanoine who is said to have commissioned this map. It is also worth noting that the work undertaken at the naval base at Yokosuka was part of the first attempt to modernize Japan’s industry.
Other nations such as Britain with their military mission headed by Admiral Richard Tracey also offered help in modernizing the Japanese navy. However, foreign powers, such as Britain and France, left Japan and stayed neutral when the Boshin War broke out between forces loyal to the shogunate of Tokugawa Yoshinobu and forces loyal to Emperor Meiji who were dissatisfied with Western economic influence in Japan specifically and in Asia in general as witnessed by the First and Second Opium Wars in China from 1839-1842 and 1856 to 1860 respectively.
The map has never been seen on the market and is a great example of cartography from an Asian perspective of the changes that were occurring in Asia and it the geopolitical landscape of the Pacific in the mid to late 19th Century.
(Sources: the comp is jointly offered for sale with Geographicus.)