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The view from Japan, 1904

The view from Japan, 1904

A very scarce satirical map, and one which I anticipate will be passing through my hands pretty quickly. However, as temporary custodian I can’t resist sharing it. It’s a delight.

Cartoon or satirical world maps are an unusual form in general, and only one institutional example of this particular map has been located (the Bodleian Library has a copy, part of the John Johnson collection of ephemera). ‘NEW COMICAL ATLAS - WHAT THE ANIMALS OF THE WORLD SAY’ by Kamijo Yomotaro was published in Tokyo in June 1904, a few months into the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. It was the first victory of an Asian power over a European in modern times. Russia suffered a series of humiliating defeats on land and sea (the Admiralty presented a lock of Nelson’s hair to the Japanese navy in recognition of the scale of their victory at Tsushima, likened to Trafalgar). The consequences were far reaching: Russian prestige was severely damaged and Japan entered the ranks of the Great Powers. And yet, many Japanese felt that the terms of the peace treaty were over-cautious, and that they had not been treated as equals. Mistrust of the West grew. That all lies in the future, so let’s see what the animals were saying in 1904.

The Chinese pig, Turkish pheasant, Hungarian hen and Persian quail are all in danger from the claws of the double-headed Russian eagle; that is, until the Japenese Golden Kite swoops to their rescue. The American tiger looks on approvingly. The explanatory text is given in English as well as Japanese (for export?) and the tiger says: “By Jove, that Golden Kite is small, but if he isn’t strong and generous! I have nothing but admiration for him”. The peace treaty was eventually signed in the US, and President Roosevelt’s mediation earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.

The British hawk is also portrayed in a positive light: “I was rather surprised at Our Chum, Golden Kite being so brave and gallant. Get at the Eagle, friend. We station ourselves at Gibraltar and at Suez, so that in spite of his audacity, Mr. Eagle can’t swoop from that direction; we are always behind you in the case of a danger. So give him a good everlasting lesson with full hands.” The French owl is dismayed at Russian weakness, and the German bear resolves to keep quiet.

The lion of British India is a magnificent beast, looking warily towards Russian expansion in central Asia (‘that avaricious Eagle better take care of what he does. If he ever put his claws on the Elephant , I will tear him to pieces’), and the Arabian camel is a delightful touch, making excellent use of the geographical space.

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