When Nekketsu Takei (1879–1961) traveled by steamship to Honolulu in late 1903, he was one of hundreds of migrants on board escaping economic hardships in rural Japan for employment opportunities in Hawaiʻi. Once cleared by immigration inspectors, many of the Japanese men, women, and children were transferred to sugar plantations that dotted the archipelago. A fortunate few with money, such as Takei, sought to start businesses or join existing ones in Honolulu and elsewhere. Takei, a highly educated young man from an upper-middle-class family in the Yamaguchi prefecture, spent the next few years in Honolulu, where he studied Hawaiian and American history, delivered right-wing political lectures to Japanese laborers at various sugar plantations, and devoted himself to learning cartography, or mapmaking. In 1906, he produced maps of Hawaiʻi to attract Japanese immigrants as well as to help newcomers familiarize themselves with the islands. The Huntington holds two of Takei’s maps as part of its Pacific Rim collections.
Cartography has a long tradition in Japan. As early as the eighth century, provincial maps were compiled for official use. In subsequent centuries, Buddhist temples and elite families commissioned maps for religious and land-recording purposes. After the unification of Japan under Tokugawa Ieyasu in early 1600, interest in cartography surged. During the Edo period (1603–1867)—a time of unprecedented long-term peace, economic growth, and rigid social order—Ieyasu’s leaders commissioned maps throughout Japan as part of a larger effort to consolidate power and resources. Commercial cartography also flourished during this period, as map publishers rode the wave of increased urbanization, advanced transportation networks, and high literacy rates to meet Japanese consumers’ strong demand for printed maps. The opening of Japan to the West in the mid-19th century prompted a wider range of Japanese mapmaking, as the nation faced existential threats from Western imperialism and later embarked on its own empire-building conquests, starting in East Asia.
When hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrated to Hawai‘i in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, maps were crucial to their assimilation into Hawaiian life. Takei’s maps were folded broadsides filled with information about Honolulu’s main Japanese district, which corresponds to the city’s downtown and Chinatown areas today.
The legends on these maps provide graphical representations of Japanese businesses, the Japanese consulate, banks, the immigration bureau, and other government institutions. Some Japanese businesses were left out, presumably because they had not paid the required fee to be listed. Takei’s maps captured the human network of an ethnic economy composed of merchants, patrons, and government entities.
The advertisements along the edges of Takei’s maps of Honolulu and Hawaiian Islands generated revenue for the original publisher and today provide researchers with additional context regarding individual businesses. Both maps featured many advertisements for hotels that catered to Japanese migrants. In addition to providing a place to sleep, several inns advertised Japanese meals, assistance with immigration processing, and steamship reservation services. There also were prominent advertisements from grocers, restaurants, bicycle shops, clothing stores, and stores selling clocks and watches. The maps and their advertisements—printed and distributed widely in many Japanese cities—caught the attention of prospective immigrants to Hawai‘i.
Takei, who was one of the most prolific Japanese writers in Hawai‘i during his time, left behind many published maps and books on Hawai‘i that offer glimpses of the islands’ geography and early Japanese communities. In 1906, the maps invited viewers to understand the Japanese Hawaiian world while enticing them with both the economic potential and large Japanese population in Hawai‘i. Today, researchers use these maps to reconstruct old Japanese districts. Takei wanted his maps to attract more Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i in order to counter America’s growing economic and military influence in the Pacific. Takei’s mass-produced maps preserve a unique period of Japanese Hawai‘i in striking visual terms.