Nagakubo Sekisui was an Edo period geographer and Confucian scholar, described by Yanagita Kunio as the founder of Japanese geography. Sekisui is credited with the creation of numerous maps and travel writings, and innovations such as the first Japanese map to employ lines of latitude and longtitude.
He was born into a peasant family in Akahama village in Hitachi province, and studied under local village physician Suzuki Matsue and Mito han Confucian scholar Nagoe Nankei. When a group of castaways from Isohara village had to be escorted back to Mito from Nagasaki in 1767, Sekisui ended up accompanying the han officials as official representative of Isohara village. After officials in his domain took notice of him, he was granted samurai status and a stipend for seven people.
His observations and experiences during this trip inspired a number of writings, most notably Nagasaki kôeki nikki ("Diary of an Appointed Journey to Nagasaki") and Annan ki ("Records of Annam"). In this account, he documents the journey in great detail, including the dates they arrived in and departed from each notable locale along the way, and, for example, the name of the inn they stayed at in Edo. As was common in travel writing of the Edo period, he also makes frequent references to sites they pass through in terms of poetic, historical, or legendary associations, or in terms of famous local specialties (goods/products). He makes extremely little mention of the castaways themselves, however, mentioning them roughly four times in the entire narrative.
During his time in Nagasaki, however, he was able to visit Dejima, and the published version of his travelogue contains both extensive textual description, and visual illustration, of Dutch people and their dark-skinned Indonesian servants, and various Dutch/Western objects and technologies, including thermometers and billiards tables. His treatment of the servants is arguably dehumanizing, but not so his discussion of Dutch and Chinese he met, who are described in a manner that reveals respect and great interest. His interest in, and respect for, the Chinese is particularly evident, and he describes in great detail a variety of aspects of their appearance, customs, and lifestyle. He expresses some disappointment, however, in these visitors from Qing not living up to his expectations of the great Chinese masters of old.
Based on a map by Mori Kôan he came across the following year (1768) in Osaka which showed lines of latitude and longitude (a rather novel thing in Japanese mapmaking at this time), he produced a revised Japanese map. Entitled kaisei Nihon yochi rotei zenzu "("Revised Japan World Distances Picture") and published in Osaka in 1779, this new revised map is said to be the first Japanese map to employ lines of latitude and longitude. It continued to be commented upon through the Bakumatsu period. Another notable map he drew during this time was a world map, titled kaisei chikyû bankoku zenzu ("Revised Picture of the 10,000 Nations of the World") and based on a map by Matteo Ricci.
Stopping in Edo in 1791 after retiring from official positions, he contributed to the Dai Nihon shi, a massive project undertaken by scholars in Mito to compile a quite lengthy and thorough account of Japanese history. However, when the project was finally completed in 1906, his contributions were not included, and were replaced with those of Kurita Hiroshi.
- Tô-oku kikô ("Journey to the Northeast")(1760)
- Nagasaki kôeki nikki ("Diary of an Appointed Journey to Nagasaki")(1767)
- Annan hyôryû ki
- Tenmon kanki shô (1774)
- Kaisei Nihon yochi rotei zenzu (1779)
- Dai-shin kôyo zu ("Map of the Broad World of Great Qing")(1785)
- "Nagakubo Sekisui." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten 朝日日本歴史人物事典. Asahi Shimbun Company.
- Plutschow, Herbert. A Reader in Edo Period Travel. Kent: Global Oriental, 2006. pp46-53.
- Yonemoto, Marcia. Mapping Early Modern Japan. University of California Press, 2003. pp69-81.
- Plutschow. p46. It is unclear whether this refers to a seven koku stipend, or some other calculation.
- It is unclear why Sekisui's map holds this distinction if Mori Kôan's used latitude and longitude as well. Perhaps Sekisui's was the first "map of Japan," i.e. focusing primarily on Japan, and not on a larger/wider area, to do this.