*This article, appeared on Imago Mundi, Vol. 27 (1975), pp. 97-98, is reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Group.


Hiroshi Nakamura (18911974)

Hiroshi Nakamura, corresponding editor of Imago Mundi since 1935, died in Tokyo on 7 February 1974, at the age of eighty-three. A distinguished biochemist of international stature, he was also one of Japan's most accomplished historians of cartography.

Even as a boy he was insatiably inquisitive, and was an enthusiastic collector of plants. He attended Tokyo Imperial University where he was graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in 1920. Wishing to pursue advanced study in biochemistry, he went to Paris to join the research staff at the Pasteur Institute. For eight years, from 1921 to 1929, he studied under Professor G. Bertrand focussing on the role of heavy metals in living bodies. During that time he received two doctrates: Doctor of Science from the Sorbonne in 1924, and Doctor of Medicine from Tokyo Imperial University in 1925.

It was in Paris that he made his first discovery of old maps. One day, walking along the Seine, he spotted in a second-hand bookshop an old map of Japan. It immediately caught his attention, and from that time onward all his spare time was taken up with his new and fascinating avocation, the study of early cartography. He visited libraries, museums, universities in various countries of Europe, and eagerly built up a growing collection of materials on old maps, especially of Japan and East Asia. He become so involved that he found himself in need of a special apparatus to photograph maps, and so, with a little ingenuity, he worked out the mechanism and had it made up specially for his own use.

When he returned to Japan in 1929 he was appointed Professor of Medical Chemistry at Seoul Imperial University in Korea, which was a Japanese colony at that time. His students still remember him with deep fondness and respect, not only as an outstanding scholar and teacher, but as a kind and warm gentleman as well. He continued a productive career in biochemistry, publishing a large number of articles in the year that followed, but all the while he kept up his search for old maps and related documents, travelling and looking all over Japan whenever he had the time. By 1932 he had already completed the manuscripts for nine voluminous works on Japanese maps, their European derivation and relation to Western cartography. With these works he successfully opened up an undeveloped segment of the history of East-West intercourse, and those scholars who saw the manuscripts were deeply impressed with his great achievement. But events that surrounded the China war, which began in 1931, made actual publication impossible.

In April 1933 Dr. Nakamura had an opportunity to revisit Europe for a year, allowing him to renew old friendships and exchange views with many savants in various countries. Soon after returning to Japan he received a letter from Professor Leo Bagrow asking him to write an article for Imago Mundi. In response, Dr. Nakamura sent a manuscript entitled OldChinese World Maps Preserved by the Koreans, which after a long delay caused by World War 11,finally appeared in vol. 4 (194.7) and it won the Imago Mundi Award.

Korea gained its independence in 1946, the year following Japan's surrender and the end of the war. Dr. Nakamura barely managed to come back to war-torn Japan, but en route he suffered a heart attack. For the next three years he was recuperating at Yanagawa, a small town in Fukushima prefecture, where he had grown up. It was of great consolation to him during this period of forced convalescence that he could concentrate on revision and rewriting of his manuscripts on old maps.

In 1949 he accepted the invitation to become professor at Yokohama Municipal University in the Medical Faculty. Until his retirement in 1961, at the age of 71, he worked as a biochemist, but his earnest interest in old maps never flagged for a moment. Gradually, around the time of his retirement, he began to publish a series of works that embody the result of his long years of painstaking research on the history of cartography. The very year of his retirement, he was once more honoured by Tokyo University when the Faculty of Letters conferred the degree of Doctor of Letters for his dessertation on the maps of Japan made by Portuguese cartographers. This was the subject in which he was most deeply interested, and he received encouragement to publish it from the Government of Portugal, as well as others. For various reasons, however, he was unable to publish the dissertation until 1966 when this monumental work was brought out by the Toyo Bunko (the Oriental Library) of Tokyo in three volumes. His other monograph, The Japanese Portolanos of Portuguese Origin also appeared in Imago Mundi, vol. 18 (1964), and he received the Imago Mundi Award for the second time. In recent years he had been planning publication of a large scale facsimile atlas of old maps, and he worked hard on it right up until his death.

Despite the fact that Dr. Nakamura was a scientist in the totally unrelated field of biochemistry, he outshone most of Japanese specialists in the history of cartography. His works are marked by perfectly accurate and exhaustive researches which enabled him to throw light upon many of the dark problems concerning Japanese and Chinese old maps. Even more impressive is his wide and profound erudition in both Oriental and Occidental cartography. Some of his works written in English or in French were of considerable service to Western scholars who had been interested in old maps of the Far East. His death leaves us with the feeling that we have lost a bridge between East and West. There remains further work to develop certain aspects of his research, but a most valuable legacy lies in the vast material he has left to enrich the work to be done in the future. He is sorely missed, but we are grateful for all he left us.


(Japanese original titles are translated in English)

'Les cartes du Japon qui servaient de modele aux cartographes europeens au debut des relation de l'Occident avec le Japon'. Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 2, no. I, 1939, p. 100-23.

'A history of East Asian cartography', in zoku Tairiku Bunka Kenkyu, Tokyo, 1943. (Japanese.)

'Old Chinese world maps preserved by the Koreans'. Imago Mundi, vol. 4, 1947,pp. 3-22.

'J. Blaeu's large world maps preserved in Japan'. Chirigakushi Kenkyu, vol. I, 1957. pp. 23-41. (Japanese.)

'The maps of Japan in the age of civil wars'. Bulletin of Yokohama Municipal Unizersity, no. 58, 1957, pp. 1-98. (Japanese.)

'East Asia in old maps'. Bulletin of Yokohama Municipal University, no. 88, 1958, pp. 1'194. (Japanese.)

East Asia in old maps. Tokyo, 1962. (Abridged English translation of the above.)

'A study of world maps drawn on the Nanban folding screens'. Kirishitan Kenkyu, vol. 9, 1964, pp. 1-273. (Japanese.)

'The Japanese portolanos of Portuguese origin of the XVIth and XVIIth century'. Imago Mundi, vol. 18, 1964, PP 24-44.

Portolan charts used by Japanese 'red-seal' trade vessels. Tokyo, I 965. (Japanese.)

Maps of Japan made by the Portuguese before the closure of Japan. Tokyo, 1966, three vols. Oriental Library series. (Japanese.)

'The appreciation of Nagakubo Sekisui's map of Japan in European countries'. Chiri, vol. I 3, no. I, 1968, pp. 85-91. (Japanese.)

'Dawn of Korea in the European cartography'. Chosen Gakuho, vol. 39, 1966, pp. 1-73. (Japanese.)

'Maps of Japan from original survey in the Edo period, known by Europeans and Americans'. Chigaku zasshi, vol. 78, no. I, 1969, pp. 1-18. (Japanese.)

'The letter of J. B. d'Anville and the reply from Father Castel, s.J.' Journal of Yokohama Munic$al Unizersity, vol. 23, no. 2, 1972,pp. 135-238. (Japanese.)