A new online cultural resource is a reflection of UBC’s strong ties and support for a devastated country
With the largest Asian studies program in Canada, partnerships with Japanese universities, and campus treasures like the Nitobe Gardens, UBC has strong ties with Japan and is the home of many Japanese scholars and resources. One rare cultural collection can now be celebrated online.
In 2010, the Library completed the third and final phase of a multi-year project, led by its Digital Initiatives Unit, that involved the digitization of hundreds of rare maps dating to Japan’s Tokugawa, or Edo, period (1600-1868).
Work on the project began in 2005. Much of the material, which dates from about 1650 to 1850, was acquired from collector George H. Beans decades ago.
The set of works, one of the largest of its kind outside of Japan, specializes in private and travel-related maps and guides (including maps of Yokohama, Vancouver’s sister city). It has attracted students and scholars in Asian Studies, architecture, literature and language, history, religious studies and art history.
The latter part of the project focused on the digitization of nearly 100 atlases, along with 16 huge maps. The entire effort is online in English and Japanese at ?http://digitalcollections.library.ubc.ca/tokugawa (click on the browse button to peruse the pieces).
The result is a comprehensive collection that can be accessed by students and researchers from UBC and beyond. Katherine Kalsbeek, a reference librarian at the Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections division, notes that many researchers interested in the Tokugawa collection aren’t based in Canada. Now, they no longer need to make in-person visits to the Point Grey campus if they want to examine the material. “We have received a lot of positive feedback from the UBC community and from researchers throughout the world,” she says.
Christina Laffin, an assistant professor in UBC’s Department of Asian Studies, says the Tokugawa collection deserves greater attention from the scholarly community. “I know of numerous researchers who have utilized the maps and who are excited at being able to access it online,” she notes.
A few samples are poignant today. One item, an account of earthquakes in a chapbook-sized publication, features bold images of a catfish and a dragon (both are associated with quakes in Japanese lore). Meanwhile, a large, rectangular panel boasts a vibrant and colourful take on foreigners, beginning with elaborately dressed Japanese figures, and encompassing subjects in European dress along with esoteric characters such as giants and cannibals. A scroll, bound in a fragile wooden box and bordered in gold leaf, unfurls to display shipping routes stretching from Kobe to Nagasaki.
The collection’s accessibility also presents teaching opportunities. “Because the maps and atlases are now digitized, there is the potential for the items to be used as classroom texts, regardless of the size of the class,” says Shirin Eshghi, Japanese language librarian at UBC’s Asian Library.
Gideon Fujiwara, a PhD student in Asian Studies at UBC, has toured the collection as a teaching assistant with Asia 101 students. “This visit was probably my best TA experience to date. The digitization of this collection is fantastic!” he says. “Students in Asian Studies have a lot to be proud of in our department…and this Beans Collection of Tokugawa maps is definitely another jewel that can enrich our learning experience.”
The collaborative project, which involved various UBC Library units, received financial support from the Department of Asian Studies. Students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, and a student intern from Japan’s University of Tsukuba, also assisted with the effort.
refers to old documents
are cursive, running characters
is literary Chinese used within Japan
are variant kana (Japanese syllabary) scripts
is a formal letter-writing style
Definitions adapted from the ?Sh?gakkan Puroguresshibu Ei-Wa Ch?jiten (Shogakukan Progressive English-Japanese Dictionary).