Today, Japanese maps (and world maps) take for granted that Hokkaido and Sakhalin are islands. This is not surprising. But there was a time when a common understanding of geography in Japan had it that the islands we now call Hokkaido and Sakhalin were connected to the Asian mainland. This week, we’re going to talk about the survey that changed that understanding with regard to Sakhalin, how it can challenge our assumptions about the Edo period, and how it laid the groundwork for Japan’s current borders.
First and foremost, we need to bear in mind that in the late 18th century, the Shogunate knew about, and was concerned about, the growth of Russian imperial influence to the north. There was an earlier strategic concern in the 17th century of potential Manchu invasion from the north, but by the 18th, the threat had shifted to the Russians, whose ships often appeared there during survey missions and amidst colonial expansion. While the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion remained in effect, even diehard supporters understood that something needed to be done in order to ensure the security of the northern border.
Mind you, there was Japanese settlement and even a feudal domain across the Tsugaru strait in what we now call Hokkaido, but this was not part of Japan proper at the time.
Let me say that again.
Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper at the time, and modern Japan– the modern imperial state that wasn’t the patchwork of semi-independent feudatories anymore– didn’t exist yet. Hokkaido wasn’t annexed until 1869.
Okay, I hear you ask, so what was it until then?
Let me introduce you to the concept of a march. A march is a borderland. It’s a concept that’s well established in European history and beyond. In the Edo period, the Matsumae controlled territory of what we now call southern Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper but was a march. Elsewhere in Ezochi, the Shogunate asserted direct control, and had the domains of northern Honshu, most notably Sendai, Aizu, Akita, and Morioka domains, administer territory on its behalf as their people and resources had less of a distance to travel.
In other words, to the Shogunate, the lands where Japanese people lived and where house Matsumae ruled, was a march. And be that as it may, it was still deemed to be at potential danger from Russian incursion. And while the land around the Matsumae territory was pretty well known, points further north were less clearly and reliably surveyed, and the Shogunate wanted to assert better control over those territories. This was especially the case starting in the early 19th century, when encounters with Russian vessels became a little more common, and the house Matsumae proved itself to be less trustworthy than the Shogunate would have desired. So I should take a moment here to do due diligence and say, let’s be real, while national defense was part of the equation here, empire building and colonization was also a motivation. We’ll come back to that in a little more detail later.
One of the most important things for planning an effective defense is knowing the terrain. While there were increasingly accurate maps of the main islands (Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the smaller islands around them, maps of Ezochi– Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the Kuriles– were less accurate. Inō Hanzaemon’s work in mapping the Japanese coastline helped significantly improve that, but his work– unfinished at the time of his death– was completed by Mamiya Rinzō, one of his students, whose work is going to be our focus today.
Mamiya Rinzō (1780-1844) was born into a peasant family in Tsukuba county of Hitachi Province (modern day Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture), but was elevated to warrior caste by adoption, owing in part to his distinction as a student of mathematics and surveying. He was assigned to the Shogunate administrative offices in Hokkaido in 1800, where he became a student of Inō Hanzaemon. Mamiya surveyed Etuworopsir (better known by its Japanese name of Etorofu-tō) in 1806, but in 1808, departed from what’s now the city of Wakkanai with his assistant Matsuda Denjūrō to survey Sakhalin, to the north. They split up at the southernmost point, with Mamiya going up the eastern coast and Matsuda going up the western coast, meeting at the northernmost tip. Though Mamiya had a decent amount of skill in the Ainu language, the further north he traveled, the less people he found who spoke the Ainu he would’ve known– i.e., the Ainu of what’s now Hokkaido– much less any Ainu at all. This is unsurprising, as he would’ve also been encountering Nivkh and Orok people, that far north. At the point they met, and confirmed that Sakhalin was an island, Mamiya and Matsuda erected a marker that read Dai Nihon koku Kokkyo National Boundary of Great Japan.
Yes, this didn’t go unchallenged– Imperial Russia eventually colonized Sakhalin too. Yes, in practical terms, there wasn’t much the Shogunate could do to enforce that kind of mindblowingly bold claim to all of Sakhalin. But again, let’s be clear. This wasn’t exploration for the sake of exploration, and it wasn’t simply a matter of defense. Mamiya worked for the Shogunate, and he was contributing to its expansion of power to the north.
After setting up that marker, Mamiya crossed the strait aboard an Ainu vessel, and went to the mouth of the Amur River, entering its estuary and further confirming that Sakhalin was an island and not part of the continent itself. In 1812 he returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, making possible the 1821 publication of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big.
Shogunate policy in Hokkaido and points north benefited from both Mamiya and Inō’s work, but oddly enough, Mamiya’s work also became involved in an international incident in fairly short order. Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) is a man who honestly deserves an episode of his own, and I’ll probably do that down the road. But for now, let’s give the brief summary: he was Prussian, in Japan with the Dutch trading mission at Dejima in Nagasaki, where he served as physician and taught Shogunate retainers about Western medicine while conducting observations and some of the first European cataloguings of Japanese flora and fauna. But thanks to his professional contacts with Japanese scholars he also obtained Japanese maps of the northern frontier, including the then-recent work of Mamiya and Inō. von Siebold had planned to smuggle these maps out of the country when he left in the autumn of 1828, but the ship that was to carry him was wrecked in a storm immediately on leaving harbor. von Siebold and the other survivors returned to Dejima, the Dutch enclave and trading post in Nagasaki, and their ship’s cargo was salvaged and inspected by Shogunate authorities, which is when the authorities discovered the map. If von Siebold thought he was homebound at the time, he was sorely mistaken, as the Shogunate confined him to Dejima for the ensuing year while its court case wound its way through. By the end, von Siebold was deported from Japan for having nearly compromised national security, though he was allowed to take his collection of local flora, fauna, and books along with him, first to his residence in Jakarta (which was then called Batavia), and thence to Holland.
The Shogunate ordered Mamiya to take part in a number of other projects focused on national security, though closer to home, in the form of coast defense for the waters around Edo. You might recall some of the earlier episodes where we talked about the intentional American missions and accidental British incursions into the waters at the mouth of Edo Bay, in the 19th century– this is some of what concerned the Shogunate at the time. Mamiya died in 1844, 9 years before the Perry mission and the subsequent dramatic shift in Shogunate priorities regarding foreign policy, coastal defense, and national security. Like his mentor, Mamiya is commemorated with a bronze statue, though Mamiya’s is in Wakkanai, where he departed together with Matsuda Denjuro, on his famous trip that confirmed Sakhalin was an island.
The border between Japan and Russia has often changed since Mamiya’s time, as have the governments of both countries. Hokkaido was, as noted above, annexed in 1869, and has remained Japanese territory ever since. For about 40 years, from the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to the Soviet invasion just prior to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sakhalin from the 50th parallel on south was controlled by the Japanese Empire, which also controlled the Kuril Islands. Today, there is a lingering dispute over the Southern Kurils, but Russia administers all of that territory.
And yet, one of the common names for the strait separating Sakhalin from the Asian continent and the Amur River estuary– sometimes called the Strait of Tartary– is still Mamiya-kaikyo. The Mamiya Strait.
- “Inō Tadataka to wa” Katori o Tabi suru https://www.city.katori.lg.jp/sightseeing/museum/tadataka.html Accessed 24 June 2021.
- “Dai Nihon enkai yochi zenzu” https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ Accessed 24 June 2021.
- “Mamiya Rinzō.” https://kotobank.jp/word/%E9%96%93%E5%AE%AE%E6%9E%97%E8%94%B5-137176 Accessed 24 June 2021.
- “Visit the place from where Japanese explorer, Mamiya Rinzō set out on his journey,” https://wakkanai-wow50.com/en/wow50/spot/wow08/ Accessed 24 June 2021.
- “Shiiboruto jiken” https://kotobank.jp/word/%E3%82%B7%E3%83%BC%E3%83%9C%E3%83%AB%E3%83%88%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6-75046 Accessed 24 June 2021
- “March” Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/browse/march Accessed 24 June 2021.
- Noguchi Shinichi. Aizu-han. (Tokyo: Gendai Shokan, 2005), pp. 193-194.