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Imperial Weather Map

Making scientific weather predictions began in Japan in June 1884 (Meiji 17), and they were displayed on police boxes in Tokyo to inform citizens of weather conditions. Starting in June of 1888 (Meiji 21), a weather report was also printed daily in the Government's "Kanpo" (Official Gazette). Newspapers seem to have directly covered the announcements posted at noon by the Central Meteorological Observatory (predecessor to the Meteorological Agency), or, they got the data from newsagencies. The newspapers of the time had only a few pages, so weather predictions were printed on the outside of the news columns along with train and ship schedules. Since the information was printed near folds of the newspapers, one can see quite a few that are stained or torn.

The document shown here is a map submitted by the Central Meteorological Observatory at the behest of the Emperor Meiji describing the course of a typhoon that hit Japan in September 1891 (Meiji 24). The Emperor, who was interested in typhoons, first commended Grand Chamberlain TOKUDAIJI Sanetsune to collect the information, and TOKUDAIJI relayed the request to Home Minister SHINAGAWA Yajiro. SHINAGAWA then asked OTANI Yasushi Chief of the General Affairs Bureau, who responded that he lacked the requisite expert knowledge, so the Emperor's request was finally passed along to KOBAYASHI Kazutomo Chief of the Central Meteorological Observatory, who then submitted the weather map together with a letter of explanation.

The eye of the typhoon made landfall near Kagoshima on 13 September, then traveled to the west of Oita and Okayama, after which it swerved off into the open sea near the Noto Peninsula, and proceeding through the Sea of Japan, before landing once again near Suttsu in Hokkaido. The typhoon traveled along a typical course for September typhoons.

In the Meiji Era, typhoons were described in Japanese as bofu (violent winds), although newspapers and others used the literary expression of gufu. The meteorological term taifu appeared in the first years of the Showa era, in response to a proposal by OKADA Takematsu. The etymology of the word is violent winds in the vicinity of Taiwan. The English word "typhoon" is said to have a similar etymology. The current Chinese character used for the tai in taifu is a simplified one, owing to the postwar restriction on the number of Chinese characters officially recognized in the Japanese language. The Japanese convention of numbering typhoons in the order of their occurrence goes back to 1953 (Showa 28). During the Allied Occupation of Japan, the American system of giving Western female names to typhoons in alphabetical order was adopted by the Occupation Forces.

Incidentally, meteorological observations in Japan used the metric system from the very beginning, so temperature readings were always made using the Celsius scale. Yet, as many thermometers sold in Japan were imported, the Fahrenheit scale also appeared widely throughout the country until the early years of the Showa era. People in the Meiji era used to describe the temperature as being "blazing hot" if it got to be 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius), showing that Tokyo then was not as hot as it is in the present Heisei era (1989 onward).

Letter from TOKUDAIJI Sanetsune to SHINAGAWA Yajiro 16 September 1891 (Meiji 24)Papers of SHINAGAWA Yajiro, #673-2

Letter from TOKUDAIJI Sanetsune to SHINAGAWA Yajiro September 16, 1891 (Meiji 24) Papers of SHINAGAWA Yajiro, #673-2[Historical materials image]
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