The Map: Kyoto, c.1626

A map of the Japanese city from the Edo period was one of the earliest produced for general use. 

Kyoto, then called Heian-kyō, was established as the seat of Japan’s imperial court in 794, at the start of the Heian period. It remained the capital city until the court moved to Tokyo in 1869. The city was built on the model of the Tang capital Chang’an and followed the grid-pattern of its road-plan.

Early maps of Kyoto were hand-painted and, initially, intended to preserve the memory of previous stages of the city as it grew and changed, rather than as aids for navigation. Later, maps started to be produced for and used by the city administrators as detailed surveys, showing road widths, house size, landowners’ names and place names.

This map shows the next phase of recording Kyoto. It is a product of the growth of woodblock printing and the resulting rise of commercial publishing in the Edo period (1603-1868), which, along with prompting the start of publishing fiction and political writings for wider audiences, saw the earliest maps being produced for general consumption.

The production of maps was driven by consumer need and their publishers congregated in Japan’s growing cities. This map (116  55 cms) is called Miyakonoki (‘Record of the Capital’) and is the oldest extant published city map in Japan. It is influenced by the early, hand-painted maps of medieval Japan, particularly those of the Engishiki, a book of laws and customs produced in the tenth century. As such, it excludes important areas that contemporary users would have found useful for day-to-day navigation, such as the economic district or popular tourist sites. It does, however, show Nijō Castle at the west (left) and the Kyoto Imperial Palace at the north-east.

After this point, as the map industry boomed and commercial competition grew, publishers started experimenting with more accurate representations, including sites of interest and practical information for navigating the city.

Sign up for Miscellanies, our free weekly email

X