Stamp celebrating diplomatic relations between Nepal and Japan.
Stamp celebrating diplomatic relations between Nepal and Japan.

In 1957 Japan and Nepal established diplomatic relations. In 1997 Nepal issued a stamp to commemorate the event. The stamp is pleasing, showing Mts Everest (center), Manaslu (right), and Fuji (left); the flags of both countries, and Nepal and the postage in Nepali and English.

I’m a sucker for anything comparative, and this stamp is reminiscent of early comparative maps, in their pastoral style, but is it a true comparative? Unfortunately it does not meet my definition. True, it does compare topographic features arranged according to their known size, in this case in a pyramid sort, rather than their geographic positioning on the planet. Further, it does a good job of including an additional variable, in this case the snowcapped peak of Mt Fuji is clearly visible, while the lower part of the mountain is shown as rocky. This point is an important one in that it distinguishes comparatives from color coded column charts in that it makes abundantly clear that snow covers only part of the mountain. Further, Mt Fuji is in suitable scale vis-a-vis Mt Everest; Mt Fuji appears to be about half the height of Mt Everest on the stamp, a decent approximation considering that Mt Fuji is shown in the foreground versus Mt Everest; Mt Fuji, at 3,776m, is less than half the height of Mt Everest, at 8,848m. The scaling breaks down, however, when Mts Everest and Manaslu are compared: the peak of Manaslu is nearly 10% lower in elevation compared to Everest. Is this also a matter of the perspective of the image? Again, Mt Manaslu is in the foreground of Everest.

The Everest/Manaslu scaling question may be attributable to another factor besides perspective. Perhaps we can look at other maps for an explanation. Mapmakers have long centered their maps on their home location (think of maps with Europe in the center). The choice of centricity is reasonable–understanding geography is often easier when considered in one’s local context. Put another way, it can be easier to understand where you are when I understand where I am. This is the innocuous explanation. On the other hand, mapping represents power: it documents and reinforces sovereignty and control, national strength, and preeminence. Centering a map conveys importance of the centered subject. Perhaps the stamp is composed so that Manaslu appears slightly larger than it is–or featured at all–relative to Everest and Fuji, to reinforce the notion that Nepal is first in mountains. This is a fitting explanation in the context of the stamp’s commemoration of diplomatic relations, where Nepal is dwarfed by the economy and international presence of Japan.

While it’s scaling calls into question whether it’s a true comparative, the stamp is without doubt a lovely work of art.

© Peter Roehrich 2015