Catalog Archive
Auction 131, Lot 490

"A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia",

Subject: Europe and Asia

Period: 1904 (dated)


Color: Hand Color

22.5 x 16.4 inches
57.2 x 41.7 cm
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This extremely rare, political caricature map was published in Japan at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. The work of a Japanese student, Kisaburo Ohara (from Keio University), the map was modeled after a popular 1877 British map (Serio-Comic War Map), which depicted the Russian Octopus threatening Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Ohara's map expanded its geographic focus to include Asia. The threatening octopus has its tentacles firmly around Finland, Poland, the Crimean and the Balkans, which are all depicted as human skulls. Other tentacles have Turkey by the waist and ankle, Persia by the throat, and is plucking Tibet from the shadow of a cowering China. The arm stretching through Siberia and Manturia represents the Trans-Siberian and South Manchuria Railways with its terminus at the ice-free port of Port Arther (Lüshun). The Russo-Japanese War was essentially fought over who would possess this region and its excellent harbor.

The map was intended for foreign, as well as domestic, distribution with both English and Japanese text. The inset at upper left reveals not only Japan's view of the Russian threat, but also early Japanese imperialist tendencies: "Black Octopus is a name newly given to Russia by a certain prominent Englishman. For the black octopus is so avaricious, that he stretches out his eight arms in all directions, and seizes up every thing that comes within his reach. But as it sometimes happens he gets wounded seriously even by a small fish, owing to his too much covetousness. Indeed, a Japanese proverb says: "Great avarice is like unselfishness." We Japanese need not to say much on the cause of the present war. Suffice it to say that the further existence of the Black Octopus will depend entirely upon how he comes out of this war. The Japanese fleet has already practically annihilated Russia's naval powers in the Orient. The Japanese army is about to win a signal victory over Russia in Corea and Manchuria. And when ... St. Petersburg? Wait & see! The ugly Black Octopus! Hurrah! Hurrah! for Japan. -- Kisaburo Ohara, March, 1904."

These political cartoon maps are now quite rare, due to their ephemeral nature. While this map well known and in several institutional collections, we can find only one record of it being on the market in the last 30 years!


Condition: A

There is a small hole in the Japanese text below the map and some creasing and a few short edge tears in the blank margins.

Estimate: $2,000 - $2,500

Sold for: $5,000

Closed on 3/17/2010