The panel investigates a selection of seventeenth-century Japanese cartographic folding screens to understand how Japanese cartographers addressed cosmology and world geography by re-elaborating European and East Asian sources through interaction with European merchants and missionaries.
Various forms of intercultural exchange and conceptual transformations developed in Japan at the time of the presence of European missionary orders, in particular the Jesuits. Western cosmology, cosmography and cartography were among the forms of knowledge that reached Japan at the time of the first European presence. This knowledge would be included and re-elaborated on cartographic folding screens (sekai chizu byobu) by Japanese painters and cartographers. These screens are now important testimonies of the intersection between three distinct contexts of knowledge: firstly, the global circulation of material goods and knowledge resulting from the Iberian expansion in Asia; secondly, the Jesuits' missionary strategies in Japan and China; thirdly, the coagulating political entity of Japan. Beyond past and current implicit assertions of alleged European predestination and superiority in disclosing the orbis terrarum, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century the meaning of terms such as 'Europe', 'India', 'China', 'Japan' and their whereabouts was still by no means obvious for European, Chinese or Japanese cultural elites and scholars. All agents were trying to relate these terms to intelligible geographic and cultural concepts. For this they used knowledge that had been accumulated locally over many centuries and mutually disseminated and integrated mainly, but not exclusively, in the contexts of the missions. This panel discusses the ways in which this mutual act of geographical and cultural emplacement developed at the time of the first encounter between European and Japanese agents. The papers investigate the different strategies, forms of curiosity and communication developed in local contexts of interaction in Japan. Each focuses on specific meanings and functions of a selection of cartographic folding screens.