Article ID: CBB035408812

Japanese Reverse Compasses: Grounding Cognition in History and Society (2018)


An unusual compass, on which east and west are reversed, provides insight into the dynamics guiding our understanding of artifacts. By examining how such compasses were used in Tokugawa Japan (1600–1868), the benefits they brought, and how users knew how to read them, this article uncovers the cognitive factors that shape our interaction with technology. Building on the methodological approach of the distributed cognition theory, the article claims that reverse compasses allowed the user to conserve cognitive effort, which was particularly advantageous to Tokugawa-period mariners. Moreover, the article shows that even non-professional Tokugawa Japanese had a relatively easy time reading reverse compasses due to similarity between the compasses’ orientation and Tokugawa timekeeping practices. Building on the bodily and cognitive habits they had developed through the practices of keeping time, users could identify and interpret cultural cues embedded in the structure of reverse compasses.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Jonkers, A. R. T.; (2003)
Earth's Magnetism in the Age of Sail (/isis/citation/CBB000301666/)

Book Coleman, Deirdre; Fraser, Hilary; (2011)
Minds, Bodies, Machines, 1770--1930 (/isis/citation/CBB001201372/)

Article Blakemore, Richard J.; (2012)
Navigating Culture: Navigational Instruments as Cultural Artefacts, c. 1550--1650 (/isis/citation/CBB001200835/)

Chapter Osamu Nakamura; (2016)
Patient Work and Family Care at Iwakura, Japan, C. 1799-1970 (/isis/citation/CBB402213161/)

Article Giere, Ronald N.; (2002)
Discussion Note: Distributed Cognition in Epistemic Cultures (/isis/citation/CBB000410811/)

Book Miranda Anderson; Michael Wheeler; (2019)
Distributed Cognition in Medieval and Renaissance Culture (/isis/citation/CBB003456293/)

Book J. Adam Carter; Andy Clark; Jesper Kallestrup; S. Orestis Palermos; Duncan Pritchard; (2018)
Socially Extended Epistemology (/isis/citation/CBB151769753/)

Article Guan, Zengjian; (2005)
The Historical Evolution of the Theory of the Compass in China (/isis/citation/CBB000501840/)

Article Brownie, Barbara; (2014)
A New History of Temporal Typography: Towards Fluid Letterforms (/isis/citation/CBB001201115/)

Book David J. Silverman; (2016)
Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America (/isis/citation/CBB009874334/)

Chapter Mosley, James; (2013)
The Technologies of Print (/isis/citation/CBB001500579/)

Article Nizovtsev, V. A.; Shirokova, V. A.; Snytko, V. A.; Frolova, N. L.; Chesnov, V. M.; (2009)
Historical Waterways in the Russian North: The Spatial Structure of Cultural Landscapes (/isis/citation/CBB001211347/)

Book Gurney, Alan; (2004)
Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation (/isis/citation/CBB000470015/)

Article Genshiro, Hiruta; (2002)
Japanese Psychiatry in the Edo period (1600--1868) (/isis/citation/CBB000202506/)

Thesis Trambaiolo, Daniel; (2014)
Writing, Authority and Practice in Tokugawa Medicine, 1650--1850 (/isis/citation/CBB001567608/)

Authors & Contributors
Palermos, S. Orestis
Osamu Nakamura
Carter, J. Adam
Pritchard, Duncan
David J. Silverman
Kallestrup, Jesper
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
VIET: Voprosy Istorii Estestvoznaniia i Tekhniki
Social Studies of Science
Philosophy of Science
Journal of Design History
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
W. W. Norton & Co.
Society for the History of Technology and the American Historical Association
Palgrave Macmillan
Oxford University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Edinburgh University Press
Technology and culture
Instruments, navigational
Distributed cognition
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Haller, Albrecht von
Whytt, Robert
Verbiest, Ferdinand
Takebe, Katahiro
Seki, Takakazu
Jackson, John Hughlings
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
17th century
20th century
21st century
16th century
Iwakura (Japan)
South Korea
United States
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment