Treasures of the Library

Tale of Two Historic Maps of Japan

The Lisa Sainsbury Library holds 65 historic maps of Japan and the rest of the world. Produced in Japan and Europe, the important collection is on long-term loan to the Library by Sir Hugh Cortazzi, former British Ambassador to Japan, and Lady Cortazzi with a view to be donated in the future. The oldest map dates to 1528 and the collection also includes rare ceramic pieces with topographic images of Japan.

The two unique maps featured in this edition are both from this collection. The first one is the late-17th century Kokudaka ezu (illustrated map of various domains and their agricultural land values) and the second is the mid-19th century Nihon zenkoku dōchū ezu (Pictorial route map of Japan). Comparing the two maps produced some 200 years apart gives us an interesting insight into the societal changes that took place in the Edo period (1615-1868) Japan.

Detail from the late-17th century Kokudaka ezu (illustrated map of
various domains and their agricultural land values)

The Kokudaka ezu is a woodblock printed cadastral land value map produced in the late-17th century. Kokudaka was a system of measuring land value by calculating the land’s agricultural production (chiefly rice) of each domain, and subsequently the stipend awarded to each ruling daimyo, or domain lord. It was an effective political and economic system used in the Edo period to determine the influence of the daimyos. The Kokudaka ezu map shows not only the locations of the ruling daimyo’s castles marked in squares and local towns in circles, but also the names of the daimyo and the number of koku or rice bushels he collected from farmers as tax, which he then sold to generate income. The map provides key information on the organisational system of the period.

The exact date of this map is unknown, however, studying the names and placements of the daimyos give a good indication of when the map was produced. That is, Tokugawa government ordered certain daimyos to relocate from one domain to another in a practice similar to our present day corporate system of office transfers. Comparing the map with residency records suggest that the map illustrates situations in Japan between the years 1686 and 1692. Exploring maps by comparing it with other historical resources opens up new and exciting paths into possible further research.

The British Library has a very similar, if not the same, map. The British Library edition, entitled Shinpan Nihonkoku ō-ezu (new edition of the map of Japan)(British Library number: OR.75(2).f13) was brought to the country from Japan by Engelbert Kaemper (1651-1715). While the colouration differs between the British Library print and the Lisa Sainsbury Library print, the key discrepancy is in the way in which Ezo island (present day Hokkaido) is drawn. The British Library print shows Matsumae, the only castle in Ezo, on a different neighbouring island, while the Lisa Sainsbury Library print shows the castle on Ezo island itself. The latter is the geographically accurate depiction and it is believed that the misnomer was spotted and rectified as the prints were being made. The correction suggests that there was a time when information including the shapes of remote lands, such as Ezo island, were not very well understood. Being able to explore topographic differences with the actual physical shape offer an interesting way to enjoying historical geographic representations.

The British Library has a very similar, if not the same, map. The British Library edition, entitled Shinpan Nihonkoku ō-ezu (new edition of the map of Japan)(British Library number: OR.75(2).f13) was brought to the country from Japan by Engelbert Kaemper (1651-1715). While the colouration differs between the British Library print and the Lisa Sainsbury Library print, the key discrepancy is in the way in which Ezo island (present day Hokkaido) is drawn. The British Library print shows Matsumae, the only castle in Ezo, on a different neighbouring island, while the Lisa Sainsbury Library print shows the castle on Ezo island itself. The latter is the geographically accurate depiction and it is believed that the misnomer was spotted and rectified as the prints were being made. The correction suggests that there was a time when information including the shapes of remote lands, such as Ezo island, were not very well understood. Being able to explore topographic differences with the actual physical shape offer an interesting way to enjoying historical geographic representations.

Detail from the Nihon zenkoku dōchū ezu (pictorial route map of Japan)

The second map introduced here is the Nihon zenkoku dōchū ezu (pictorial route map of Japan), a woodblock print made around the mid-19th century. What is most striking is the sheer density of information packed into this map compared to the Kokudaka ezu map. This route map suggests not only the advancement in printing technology that allowed for finer and more detailed descriptions, but also signifies the developments in road infrastructures with routes into Edo being more numerous and complex than those found on the Kokudaka ezu map. While the information in square boxes that indicate castle towns with their domain daimyo’s name remains mostly the same as that in Kokudaka map, this route map includes details on lodging and resting stations (shown as yellow roundels) and routes (black lines connecting the rest stations). Furthermore, large cities and religious sites and buildings are mentioned in the red roundels. For example, the two large shrines in Ise (Inner and Outer Ise Shrines) where many during the Edo period made pilgrimages to, and where this year in May the Ise-Shima Summit will take place, are indicated in red roundels. This Edo period map would have acted as the equivalent of our modern day travel guide as townsmen often travelled by foot and would have relied on maps such as this to plan their journey and overnight stays.

Edo period overland routes consisted mainly of the five major roads that radiated outwards from Edo city that then feed into smaller provincial towns and villages. The details found in the zenkoku dōchū map illustrates the vast road network available at the time. What contributed to the extensive road development was the alternative-attendance system called sankin kōtai imposed by the Tokugawa government. This order obliged all daimyos to alternate their residence between Edo and their domain, with the aim to force daimyos to spend a great deal of their fortune on these trips and as a consequence limit their spending power from getting too strong to challenge the Shoguns’ authority. Typically on alternating years, the daimyo would travel to and from Edo in a procession, which depending on their status could be quite elaborate. The large-scale migration was initially implemented for political reasons, however, to ensure that the journey for the distinguished entourage was one of comfort led to the improvement in road networks and services.

The two maps hopefully illustrate some interesting ways to study historic maps and see their potential use as valuable research tools that contain not only geographic information of the time but also insight into the underlying social situations. The Lisa Sainsbury Library with the help of Ritsumeikan University’s Art Research Center feature its historic map collection as high-resolution images on-line. Each map can be zoomed and viewed in great detail, and invite visitors on an inspirational time travel to the Edo period Japan.

Kuramochi Takashi
Keio University Library Librarian (seconded to the Lisa Sainsbury Library from September to December 2015)