Imperial Practice and the making of modern Japan’s territory: Towards a reconsideration of Empire’s boundaries

Edward Kieran Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A renewed focus on the notion of empire has prompted an interest in questions of modern Japanese imperialism after the Meiji Restoration, both in Japan and abroad. It has also focused attention on the issue of comparing empires across Eurasia during the early modern period, under the rubric of ‘global history’. Japan has not really been incorporated into this latter discussion. This article begins by examining the reasons for this lack of incorporation, before moving on to discuss the value of considering early modern Japan as an imperial formation. The lens it adopts is one of cartography, that quintessentially imperial practice that has featured heavily in discussions of a Eurasian early modernity. The article examines the cartographic incorporation of Japan’s northern region of the Yezo into Japan itself, culminating in the area being newly designated as Hokkaido in the early Meiji period, the newest circuit within Imperial Japan’s administrative map. This political outcome was the result of varied practices that found reflection across the Tokugawa–Meiji divide. Yet this intense variety of practices, constantly shifting in response to contingency, served to form the state-effect, through which the land of Yezo was granted its unity and represented on the map. The territory on the map provided the visual, graphic representation of the demarcation of authority of the state that authorized the practice of its own mapping. In this manner, the state mapped itself into Hokkaido and from this perspective, the division between the early modern and modern eras is far less significant than is frequently assumed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-79
JournalGeographical Review of Japan, Series B
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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