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I inevitably get that song in my head. Posted on 08/20/2001.

An email from Jane about all this maps stuff:

i think you're absolutely right about maps being, in a sense, almost anti-intuitive. you have to learn how to read them. you should check out this great book (if you haven't already) by Dennis Wood, The Power of Maps (1992), in which he dissects the seemingly "neutral" codes of maps and shows them to be absolutely dripping with values and biases. he's also quite an entertaining writer, so the book is a lot of fun to read.

part of my research last year in East Asian History was on early Japanese maps. i was trying to figure out how and why people made maps - or rather, why they didn't make them. modern people like us find them so useful (even if we have trouble reading them) but apparently, ancient people did not. "maps" were not a natural way of seeing the world. in Japan, for instance, early (pre 1600) maps exist, but they are extremely rare - therefore many historians think that although they had the technology to make maps, they didn't, because they didn't need them. this seems strange to modern people, as we would think a feudal land-based aristocracy would need maps of their lands - to show to their heirs, to show to the court when disputes arose, to aid in developing reasonable tax structures, and so on.

then, something strange happens. after 1600 comes a mapping explosion. part of the reason is probably the new style of government (a more centralized authority than had ever existed before), some of it was European influence (Europeans used maps a lot more than Japanese did), but it's still difficult to explain why all of a sudden hundreds and hundreds of maps were produced. these were maps of cities, primarily, sold on street corners for a pittance, usually to tourists. they were updated and put out every year by almost every publishing house in Japan (in the 17th century, by the way, Japan had the largest publishing industry in the world.) there were also nation-wide maps, produced in abundance for the first time, and distributed to various landowners around the country.

what's going on? what is the shift in perception all about? why were people suddenly able to read and appreciate maps? how did they use maps?

i'm not really sure. but such comparative analysis is useful in thinking about the syntax or "codes" of maps. looking at the web-map examples you linked to, i was struck at how "naturalistic" the cartographers tried to make them. it smacks of the same kind of value-judgement coding that Wood discusses. why are we more comfortable with a web-map that simulates a "natural" order? (which, of course, is really not natural at all - we've merely been trained to see water as blue paint and mountains as brown paint.) this is very strange to me. the web is not this way, at least in my perception. and what determines where sites themselves are located, and in what proximity to eachother? why are some sites closer than others? what about sites that fit into multiple "countries" or categories?

Jane's email reminded me of something I've wondered about Japanese film. I'm a big fan of Kurosawa, and have caught one or two Ozu flicks. A staple of their cinematic presentation is employing telephoto lens--in many, if not most, shots, every thing is in perfect focus, flattening out the screen. Attending some art museum some time ago, I wandered into a Japanese art wing, and saw that in traditional Japanese art, depth is shown not through vanishing points, with things getting smaller in the distance, but through vertical placement--the higher something is, the farther away it is. This suggested to me that, perhaps, Japanese directors used telephoto lenses as a way to approximate this. But maybe I'm wrong.

Jane, by the way, has a way nifty personal website, featuring a blog, journal, essays, etc. She tends toward erudite obsessions with pop culture. She also plays in a band.

The song that inevitably comes to mind when I read or hear the word "Japanese" is "Turning Japanese."

3 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Look closer."
Next entry: "Tying together some threads in my head"


I figured you meant "Jane Says" when I read the beginning.
Posted by josh @ 08/21/2001 09:10 AM PST [link to this comment]

I'm with Josh on this one.
Posted by jjg @ 08/21/2001 08:52 PM PST [link to this comment]

oh... that's good. maybe we should have a "name that tune" contest with each post, where you say what song it reminds you of...

oh, nevermind.
Posted by peterme @ 08/21/2001 11:39 PM PST [link to this comment]

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