Review: Mamiya’s Maps, Sean Michael Wilson

Rating: 5 out of 5

I should start this review by saying that I’m intricately involved with this title given I’m it’s publisher. Yet, it’s important to be honest to oneself before anything else, so I hope I’m not too biased when I say that this is indeed a very good book and one I am very happy with.

How so? For one, it’s easy to be distracted in the modern world by the transient. I think in this title, we managed to create a small measure of peace, despite the warfare and colonialism that are a part of the topics the book covers. In addition to that, we look into the flora and fauna of Sakhalin and the Far East, probably one of the most beautiful regions of the world. This setting acts as the background to highlighting Mamiya Rinzo’s explorations which took place in the early 19th century.

While the theme of Mamiya Rinzo’s voyages carries connotations of empire-building (and defense against empire-building, the second intricately connected to the first), the title also brings forth cultural links and the how of exploration. This slows down the pace and allows the reader to discover new traditions in Mr Wilson’s view of how Mamiya might have done so two centuries ago.

The first chapter, which develops the story of the Ainu, is a bit different in this respect as it also shows how the Japanese conquest of Hokkaido took place. This part also goes further back in time than the rest of the book while the rest links Hokkaido and Sakhalin to the modern world. The other chapters focus in on the 19th century and allow the reader to get a better understanding of both Japan and China in this period through seeing a samurai sent out by the central government to not conquer or fight – indeed we demonstrate how little Mamiya Rinzo understood this world – but to map.

The mapping of the unknown is intricately linked with claiming possession and establishing power. Who got somewhere first really made a difference, but of course not every first had the same value: a merchant selling goods for indigenous peoples did generally not move the border, but an official of the central government could have through a single visit.

These topics were the rage of the 18th and 19th centuries and though they look mundane to us now, this importance is something I know I want to return to in the future. For now, step into this world with Mamiya Rinzo and see what he made of it!

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