Tops in topography: Army agency created maps that stand the test of time
Japanese globe-maker Miwako Watanabe may have started out just cleaning the stockroom but she ended up with graphic proof that half a century ago the U.S. Army put Tokyo on the map.
They also highlighted Kanto, Kyoto, Tokai, Kanazawa, Hokkaido, Nagoya, Osaka, and more — all at a 1:250,000 scale, all in 3-D. The maps were so precise they helped kick-start Japan’s cartography industry and still serve as a standard today.
Watanabe is president of Watanabe Kyogu Manufacturing Co., which makes educational aides including globes. While cleaning a third-floor stockroom in 2002, she found and opened two cardboard boxes — to discover more than 30 multidimensional maps of celluloidlike material, each roughly 28 inches by 21 inches, all in excellent condition.
The Japan Geographic Survey Institute’s Mitsuaki Kikuchi told Watanabe the U.S. Forces Map Service, Far East, stationed at Tokyo’s Camp Oji 50 years ago, must have produced the maps. Kikuchi said the Japan Geographic Survey has a complete 51-map set of the 3-D cartography.
The original AMS maps are very accurate and are far beyond the standard of 50 years ago, said Yoichi Kobayashi, Japan Map Center.
In 1973, Kobayashi said, he and other survey members received 51 maps when they visited Tokyo’s Akasaka Press Center — where Stars and Stripes is printed. The maps since have been reproduced for Japanese users including individuals, corporations and research institutes.
When the U.S. map service was at Camp Oji, it was the largest map-making organization of its kind outside the United States. The land was returned to Japan in 1985; the camp’s headquarters building still serves as a cultural center and library.
And as the base closed, and the map service stopped doing business, many of the Japanese technicians working there established map companies and helped develop Japan’s map industry, historians say.
Still unknown, though, is how the 30-plus maps made it to the cardboard boxes, then to the Watanabe company stock room, where they were found — by accident but perfectly preserved — almost half a century later.
Watanabe’s best guess: Her grand-stepfather, Unsei Watanabe — the globe company’s founder — acquired the maps as reference material for his business but for some reason left them boxed.
Also not clear: when, where and how he got the maps. At the time they were not sold to the public.
She said she has no idea of the maps’ value.
But their long retirement is over: Watanabe opened Earth and Universe, a small globe museum, in the company’s building a year ago.
And the U.S. Army’s 3-D maps, which helped set an industry standard, now are a featured display.