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A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia

  • Author: OHARA. Kisaburo
  • Publisher: Yoshijiro Yabuzaki, Tokyo
  • Date: 1904
  • Dimensions: 56 x 42 cms


Striking Japanese propaganda map depicting Eastern Asia shortly after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in early 1904

About this piece:

Kokkei O-A Gaiko-Chizu – A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia

Colour-printed lithograph. Wide margins. Traces of old folds and some marginal creasing. Circular Japanese publisher stamp in lower left corner. Overall very fine condition for a separate broadsheet publication of this sort.

Kisaburo Ohara, a student at Tokyo’s Keio University & the author of this increasingly scare Japanese derivative of Fred Rose’s 1877 & 1900 serio-comic Octopus maps, replicates the original European design and detail but extends it in both geographical & political coverage as well as in meaning & message to now encompass the events of the Russo-Japanese war [1904-5], as viewed from a decidedly patriotic Japanese perspective.

In acknowledgement of Rose, the panel in the top left describes the “Black Octopus, a name newly given to Russia by a certain prominent Englishman”.

Ohara goes on to describe the Russian Octopus as avaricious, stretching its eight legs in all directions and seizing everything that comes within its reach. He describes the giant cephalopod as being seriously wounded by a small fish (Japan) and lauds Japanese victories over Russian naval power in the Orient and remarks on the possibility of further Japanese army triumphs in Korea and Manchuria.

The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 emerged from the determination of both countries to develop spheres of influence in the Far East, mainly at the expense of China (shown here as an imposing seated figure, his left arm raised to defend himself against the tentacled incursions of the Russian Octopus). Tibet, the figure of the Dalai Lama, is shown clinging onto the Chinaman’s knee with one hand, the other entwined by the Russian Octopus. To the south India appears in British military guise as a bearded King Edward VII, holding off the Octopus in the north, whilst Burma, Siam and Annam kowtow below the feet of their overbearing Chinese neighbour. Japan had fought a successful war against China in 1894-5 and extracted favourable terms from the final peace – a heavy war indemnity, the island of Formosa (shown here as a Japanese cannon), and Port Arthur in Manchuria with its immediate territorial hinterland. Diplomatic pressure from Russia and its European allies lead to the Japanese relinquishment of Port Arthur and its subsequent lease by the Chinese to the Russians two years later, along with the Liaotung peninsula on which Port Arthur stands (here shown as the tip of one of the Black Octopus’s tentacles). This meant the provision of an ice-free naval base in the Far East for the Russians to supplement Vladivostok.  For Japan this was a cause of further injury and insult. In addition the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900 had led to the dispatch of European and Japanese troops to China to suppress the rebels, but when the hostilities were over Russian troops remained in Manchuria and refused to withdraw, Russia hoping to use Manchuria as a springboard for further Oriental expansion. Japan meanwhile was exerting growing influence on the Korean peninsula (shown here as a subservient kowtowing neighbour, facing eastwards towards a pistol wielding Japanese officer representing the islands of Japan). Russia also had interests in Korea and by 1901 growing tensions between the two countries had led to hostilities and ongoing negotiations between the two powers made little progress.

In February 1904 Japan broke off negotiations, severed diplomatic relations with Russia and launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur, thereby bottling up the Russian fleet.

Published just a month after this attack, in March 1904, Ohara’s text proclaims prophetically:

The Japanese fleet has already practically annihilated Russia’s naval power in the Orient. The Japanese Army is about to win a signal victory over Russia in Corea and Manchuria….

Indeed a series of remarkable naval and territorial victories astounded the on-looking world and culminated in the fall of Port Arthur [Jan 1905], the defeat of the Russian armies in Shenyang [Jan-March 1905] and Admiral Togo’s defeat of the Russian Fleet at Tsushima in May 1905.

Through American mediation peace was concluded by the Treaty of Portsmouth, NH (September 1905) confirming Russia’s ignominious defeat and Japan’s emergent status as a new world power.

And the political and geopolitical legacy of Russian military humiliation and Japanese victory would continue to reverberate and impact on the futures of both countries through ensuing revolutions and global conflicts in the early decades of the early 20th Century.

The notes to the lower left margin of the map identify the supervisor of the design as Dr. Shingo Nakamura, Doctor of Law. Nakamura [1870-1939] was a dynamic young professor of international law at the Tokyo Peers School (Gakushuin) and later at Hosei University, and a passionate advocate of war with Russia. Indeed he had spent time travelling in Europe in the late 1890’s and had studied European Law in Heidelberg at the time of the Sino-Japanese War.

Indeed Nakamura’ involvement in the design of Ohara’s map is of particular significance, in the light of the close connections between himself  & six other Todai Law professors (the so-called Tomizu group, named after their leader Professor Tomizu Hiroto) and Prince Konoe Atsumaro, principal of the Peers School, president of the House of Peers and, in 1900, founder of the fiercely anti-Russian People’s League (Kokumin Domeikai). The law professors were encouraged by Prince Konoe to use their influence within the academic community and their contacts within government to propound an increasingly hard-line anti-Russian foreign policy. It was a strategy that brought them increasingly into conflict with the new Prime Minister Katsuro Taro, a retired general, who took growing exception to what he considered their lack of competency in such matters and in the interference of academics in affairs of state. In the summer of 1903, these tensions spilled out into an open public quarrel. Known as the “Affair of the Seven PhDs” (Shichi hakase jiken) each side sought the support of friendly newspapers to propagate their views. The advent of war in February 1904, served only to heighten the hostility between the two camps. As Byron K Marshall notes in Academic Freedom and the Japanese Imperial University, 1868-1939:

“The professors stepped up their public speaking and writing activities,  dividing their attention between encouraging nationwide support for struggles on the battlefront and publishing detailed proposals for the terms they believed a victorious Japan should extract from Russia as part of any peace settlement. Whilst the former might have been welcomed as a contribution to the government’s own efforts at mobilising the nation behind the war, the latter was seen not only as unsolicited advice for policy makers but also as a potentially serious complication for official diplomats” 

The increasingly vehement press statements of Professor Tomizu, championing a Japanese hegemony over  Manchuria as well as Korea, widely reported abroad, brought ever rising tensions with Katsura’s cabinet &  with Japan’s diplomats and peace negotiators throughout 1904 & 1905. The tensions reached breaking point. Tomizu was suspended from his professorial duties at the University of Tokyo, whilst three others, including Shingo, had their position as advisers to the Japanese Foreign Ministry terminated. By September 1905 Shingo had also been fired from the Peers School.

These connections & circumstances beg the question: Was Ohara’s map – self-evidently an instrument of vehement anti-Russian propaganda in which Shingo Nakamura played a key design role  – in fact published & disseminated with the direct backing of Prince Konoe & the Tomizu group?

Whatever the background to its design & purpose, the map proved extremely popular with the Japanese public and went through several editions. This example is the 4th edition, published in Tokyo by printer Yoshijiro Yabuzaki of the Tsukiji district and marketed in Western Japan through Chihei Yoshie, owner of the Shuga Do Art Shop in Osaka.

The wider dissemination of the map abroad and its reception overseas, particularly in the United States, are also equally interesting.

By the end of April, several copies had arrived through the mail in Hawaii, and were being offered for sale by local Honolulu druggist, Fred Makino, according to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser of April 30th. Other American travellers, such as Herbert B Carter, George Kennan (a friend of Japanese scholar Dr Swan M Burnett) & I. Schulz, second officer of the Hamburg American Line steamer Arabia, brought back further examples of the map to the US from Hong Kong and Yokohama. Schulz reported that thousands of copies of the map has been printed but that supplies had been exhausted by the time his ship had left Yokohama, and that such was the insatiable demand that examples were selling for 10 times the original price.

The map received widespread attention in the domestic U.S press, being described in considerable detail in the The Minneapolis Journal of Friday May 13th and illustrated in The New York Daily Tribune of Monday May 30th, The Washington Times of Sunday June 5th after copies of several Japanese war cartoons, including Ohara’s map, were reported to have recently arrived in the capital via the diplomatic bag. The map made its final appearance alongside the recently arrived Schulz’s account in The Oregon Sunday Journal of July 3rd 1904.

As the latter newspaper concluded in admiring, if deeply patronising terms:

There is one artist who has won a place in the hearts of his countrymen, though he stayed at home when the troops marched out from the bamboo groves, went down to the sea in big steamers and drove the Russian warriors far across the surging Yalu…This hero is the artist Kiaburo Ohara, who drew the most famous cartoon known in modern Japanese art – “A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia”……a little Japanese artist, toiling away in a little bamboo house, has given the Russian empire a new symbol. From today on it will be known as the Black Octopus of the Nations….

Interestingly the Boston Public Library also acquired its copy of Ohara’s map at some point in the course of 1904, a further indication of the speed with which copies of the map were distributed abroad.

What of Kisaburo Ohara himself? Bibliographic references suggest that it is probably the same Kisaburo Ohara who became a well-known translator, phoneticist, linguist and Anglo-Japanese scholar in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He appears to have still been working in Japan as an academic & professor of phonetics in the early 1960’s.

It is perhaps fitting that alongside the bitter & highly negative 1904 propaganda image of the Black Octopus, if this is the same individual, translator Ohara’s best known later work is a more prosaic & harmonious American-Japanese love story, published, with perhaps more than a little coincidental timing, immediately after the Second World War, in 1947.

Ai wa Taihei-yō o Musubu (Love spans the Pacific), an illustrated primer for both Japanese and English language learners with parallel English & Japanese texts, appears to be based upon the life story of the legendary American journalist, Ray Cromley [1910-2007]. Cromley had visited Japan in the early 1930’s, where he had quickly fallen in love and married a Japanese girl, Masuyo. He was expelled from Japan shortly after Pearl Harbour in December 1941 with his young son Donald, but leaving behind his wife, a highly qualified doctor. The couple were briefly reunited in Tokyo after the end of the war, though she tragically died a few months later, after contracting tuberculosis.

Refs: cf:P J Mode Persuasive Cartography, 1145.1; Gillian Hill Cartographic Curiosities #46; R V Tooley Geographical Oddities, MCC 1 #82.; L Baridon: Un Atlas Imaginaire, pp.126-127; A Baynton-Williams: The Curious Map Book, pp.196-197