Buddhist culture was most active and prosperous in early modern Japan (1600–1868). Buddhist temples were ubiquitous throughout the country, and no one was untouched by Buddhism. Buddhist priests wielded considerable power over the populace, and Shinto was largely subject to Buddhist control. Buddhist culture attained this considerable influence in early modern Japan through the performance of death-related rituals and prayer. Death-related rituals (also known as funerary Buddhism) were rooted in the nationwide anti-Christian policy of the Tokugawa bakufu that utilized the administrative machinery of Buddhist temples. Using the opportunity provided by the anti-Christian policy, Buddhist temples were able to bind all households to death-related rituals and this, in turn, gave rise to the danka system in which dying a Buddhist soon became the norm in early modern Japan. Given the rigid social status, mutual surveillance, and highly regulated nature of everyday life in Tokugawa Japan, people through prayer often turned to Buddhist deities to seek divine help for their wishes or ad hoc solutions to worldly problems. Beyond being sites of prayer services, Buddhist temples also served as spaces of learning, relief, and/or leisure, thus catering to people from all walks of life. Both prayer and play were also integral to Buddhist culture in early modern Japanese society.
The expansion of travel transformed Japanese culture during the Edo period (1603–1867). After well over a century of political turmoil, unprecedented stability under Tokugawa rule established the conditions for men and women from all levels of the hierarchical society to travel safely for purposes as varied as the cultural consequences of a country increasingly on the move. Starting in the first half of the 17th century, institutionalized forms of compulsory travel for the highest-ranking samurai and a limited number of elite foreigners made for conspicuous political spectacle and prompted the Tokugawa shogunate to develop and maintain an extensive system of roads, post-towns, checkpoints, and sea routes. Prompted by the economic prosperity of the Genroku era (1688–1704) in the late 17th century, an ever-growing portion of the population, including commoners from cities and villages, took advantage of newfound leisure to embark on journeys for pilgrimage, medical treatment, and sightseeing. This change was accompanied by the expansion of tourism, which grew into a sophisticated commercial enterprise in the 18th century. Poets, writers, painters, performers, and scholars took to the road throughout the Edo period for artistic and intellectual pursuits, often as teachers or students, generating and spreading culture where they went. With an astonishing output of travel literature, guidebooks, maps, and woodblock prints featuring landscapes, a thriving commercial publishing industry, which first blossomed in the Genroku era, used woodblock printing technology to popularize travel in increasingly diverse ways. Together with such influential forms of print, the things that people wore, packed, bought, enjoyed, and rode while traveling formed a rich body of material culture that reveals the lived experience of travel for the duration of Tokugawa rule.
Japan defined its northern edge against Russia over the course of the 19th century. In earlier periods, an area and people known as Ezo marked the northern edge of Japanese state and society, but expansion of both the Russian and Japanese polities brought them into direct contact with one another around the Sea of Okhotsk. Perceptions of foreign threat accelerated Japan’s efforts to map and know Ezo, and shifted understandings of Japan’s northern edge outwards. Maritime routes defined this new northern edge of Japan, and their traces on the map tied distant locales to the national body. Maritime space was therefore crucial to this expansion in conceptions of the nation, through which the maritime boundary of Japan came to incorporate much of the Ezo region. The mid-century opening of Japan transformed this maritime boundary, which was shaped in the latter half of the 19th century by Japan’s particular situation, even as global and universal concepts were drawn upon to justify its operation. Japan’s participation within international and inter-imperial society conferred upon it the ability to appeal to such concepts for legitimacy, a participation made possible by the state’s efforts to satisfactorily map and administer the boundaries of Japan’s northern edge.
Since the world in its entirety cannot be grasped through direct experience, world maps are mental constructs that serve as a radiography of a given culture’s attitudes towards its environment. Early modern Japan offers an intriguing study case for the assimilation of a variety of world map typologies in terms of pre-existing traditions of thought. Rather than topography, these maps stress topological connections between “myriad countries” and therefore embody the various mental maps of cultural agents in Japan. The maps’ materiality and embeddedness in social networks reveal connections to other areas of visual and intellectual culture of the period.
When the coalition government composed of the Tokugawa shoguns and daimyō set about to give visual expression to the entire territory under its rule, it chose to produce enormous hand-drawn maps of each of Japan’s provinces, which corresponded to administrative spatial divisions that had been established by the government in the ancient period on the model of China. These maps followed the example of political maps being produced in China at the time, and systematically deployed icons representing a centralized order based on administrative and military organizations were embedded in the landscape and topography of the provinces. While basing itself on the style of Chinese political maps, the shogunate devised its own distinctive methods of spatial representation. Countless villages, corresponding to the primary financial base for the shoguns and daimyō, were inserted in the form of geometrical icons into the hierarchical order of provinces and their subdivisions in the form of districts. Recorded on each of these village icons were the village’s official name and its official rice yield as agreed on by the shogun and daimyō. In addition, the shogunate did its utmost to gain a fresh grasp of the borders of each province. The shoguns and daimyō were able to produce such maps because the leaders of local village communities possessed the knowledge and surveying techniques that made it possible for them to submit maps able to meet the demands of the shogun and daimyō. In the eighteenth century, the eighth shogun created a hand-drawn map of Japan by combining these provincial maps. But around the same time, from the eighteenth century onwards, the world of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Japan was undergoing considerable change. There arose a need for reliable coastal maps that could be shown to Western nations. For Japan, making this kind of map available to international society meant asserting the extent of its national territory. Amidst attempts to find ways to build a modern form of national territory and moves to represent it visually to international society, maps of Japan’s national territory, different from provincial maps and past maps of Japan, were beginning to take shape. The driving force behind the creation of these new maps was a private intellectual’s desire for knowledge, while those who accurately understood the meaning of making public maps of national territory in the context of the international situation in the nineteenth century and made the shogunate face the implications of this were not the shogun’s senior statesmen but intellectuals and technical experts employed at the shogunate’s institute for Western studies. The shogunate exhibited a new woodblock-printed map of Japan at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris and presented copies to leading figures in Europe. The shogunate wished to proclaim to Europe that he himself was Japan’s ruler. But after Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the fifteenth and last shogun, surrendered his position as shogun and was defeated in battle, the political order centered on the Tokugawa family finally collapsed.