'Dōtonbori and Ōsaka’s Urban History'

This is one of four exhibits created by Yale students on exhibition in the Sterling Memorial Library. Click here to read about the others.

John D’Amico ’16 was studying at  Ōsaka City University on a Robert Lyons Danly Fellowship when he had the chance to view a recently discovered map of Dōtonbori — a 400-year-old canal in the southern part of the city that serves as a cultural and entertainment hub.

“The sheer size of the map — stretching out several meters — as well as the attention to the detail shown in how it recorded ownership and land use, got me curious about the world in which that map was made and used as a tool for confirming power and ownership,” says D’Amica, an East Asia Studies major who graduated in December.

On the advice of Daniel Botsman, professor of history, D’Amico decided to make the canal’s development the topic of his senior these.

“It fit in well with the questions of city life, land development, and urban administration that had been coming up in my classes in Japan,” D’Amico says. “Like with most things, the more I read the more I became interested in the topic.”

His exhibit, derived from his senior project, studies how the Dōtonbori’s development affected Ōsaka’s growth and the lives of its residents. It examines the processes by which the canal became a lively city center, including the partnerships between merchant developers and the samurai who governed the city.

D’Amico drew upon materials in the East Asia Library’s special collections, as well as resources held at Sterling Library and the Beinecke.  

“I most enjoyed trying to untangle the 17th and 18th century Japanese documents that formed the core of the paper,” he says. “Putting together fragmentary pieces of information to make a cohesive whole is part of the fun of doing history. The documents were full of interesting details — ranging from stories of a whale hunt along the bay to how exactly the city processed land ownership records.”

He says he was surprised by the rich collection of maps, posters and woodblock prints that he discovered while planning the exhibit.