Unique Perspectives on Kyoto

ArticleThe curator of the MacLean Collection examines graphic representations of urban Japan from the Tokugawa period

Richard Pegg
April 6, 2021
2264 words

Richard Pegg is Director and Curator of the MacLean Collection in Illinois, and a member of the Leventhal Center’s Board of Review. In this guest post, he takes a close look at a set of maps of Kyoto that were recently added to our digital collections. This is the first in a regular series of Map Chats, in which researchers from partner collections will explore historic cartographic materials from all around the world.

The MacLean Collection Map Library includes a group of maps of the city of Kyoto, a city which was the official Imperial capital and unofficial cultural capital of Japan from the eighth century until the early seventeenth century. During the early Tokugawa period (1603–1868) the Shogun established the administrative capital in Edo, which was later named Tokyo and became the official capital in 1868. Thus, over the course of the Tokugawa period, there were two capitals in Japan: the administrative in Edo and the Imperial and cultural in Kyoto.

In respect to Kyoto’s historical and cultural importance, the Shogun maintained a castle in Kyoto. The physical location of Kyoto was originally deemed ideal in the eighth century following a list of geomantic criteria. These criteria were based on a Chinese ideal used for the ancient Chinese city of Luoyang, China’s capital during the Eastern Han (25–220 CE) and Tang (618–907) dynasties. This ideal consisted of a ring of protective mountains and the generally north/south position of fertile plains between two rivers, as found in Kyoto.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, a unique type of quasi-cartographic depiction of Kyoto known as “Scenes in and around the Capital” (rackuchu rakugai zu) became popular in Japan. These maps were created on multi-panel painted and gilded screens (byobu), as in this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shown below.

洛中洛外図屏風 [Scenes in and around the Capital], Japan, 17th century. Half of pair of six-panel folding screens, ink, color, gold and gold leaf on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art 2015.300.106.1.

洛中洛外図屏風 [Scenes in and around the Capital], Japan, 17th century. Half of pair of six-panel folding screens, ink, color, gold and gold leaf on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art 2015.300.106.1.

Through the use of gold clouds that create separate distinct areas of specific architecture, these screens visually fracture people and festivals, as well as space and time, which are then (re)assembled as disjointed yet overall visually cohesive parts. The artist’s joining and stretching, visually and intellectually, of the physical spaces of the inner city proper (rakuchu) and the outer surrounding hills and suburbs (rakugai), created unique temporal, pictorial and cartographic perspectives found in these screens. For the viewer, these large format screens, which one would sit between on the floor, created a sense of intimacy and pride of place that visually connected people and events to the landscape itself.

Maps of Kyoto begin to appear in the middle seventeenth century. These were generally hand drawn and specifically tied to the Shogun’s government planning and land management. The new Tokugawa government required land surveys (kenchi) and provincial mapmaking (kuriezu) for all parts of Japan as part of a cultural identity process creating a historical narrative of Japan as part of an effort to centralize political control and tax revenues. Those efforts by the late seventeenth century (in particular Jokyo and Genroku eras, 1684–1704) combined with the increased demands in print culture, including books on travel and local histories of topography, all combined with the increased interest in tourism and travel in general created new demands for maps.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, Japan, dated 1699 (19th century copy). Folded sheet map, ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 29632.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, Japan, dated 1699 (19th century copy). Folded sheet map, ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 29632.

The publisher Hayashi Yoshinaga (林吉永 御絵図所), active during the late seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries, especially known for his maps, emerged to meet the demand. Beginning in 1686, Hayashi’s folded large single sheet Large Maps of Kyoto (Kyo Oezu or 京大絵図) were an instant success. These maps were all woodblock printed using black ink and then hand colored with yellow for principal roads, red for temples, blue for rivers, with the surrounding hills in greens and browns. A nineteenth-century reprint of the 1699 version in the MacLean Collection, shown here, clearly shows the distinctive grid of yellow-colored streets, a detail that distinguish this map from other city maps (not only in Japan), the two encircling blue Kamo and Katsura Rivers and the surrounding green and brown hills.

Detail of Sanjo bridge over Kamo River from the Large map of Kyoto (1699)

Detail of Sanjo bridge over Kamo River from the Large map of Kyoto (1699)

Within the city, the two large white rectangles are the Imperial Palace in the northeast and the Shogun’s Palace in the west. There are seven entrances into the city, three via principle bridges. The most famous bridge over the Kamo River, Sanjo Ohashi (literally “third road bridge”), is located at the middle of the eastern edge of the city proper and is depicted in orange. Sanjo Bridge is the eastern end of the road that divides the city north and south and as such is generally considered the unofficial center of Kyoto.

The visual inner/outer assemblage of place in Kyoto found in Japanese screens carried over into map making of Kyoto in interesting ways. On closer examination of this map one can see that the physical and intellectual place of the viewer have been given consideration. The straightforward street grid is primarily oriented to be read from the bottom/south of the map. But additional perspectives are also presented. One, known in Japan as the worm’s-eye view, is shown as if the viewer were a worm sitting in the center of the map looking out at the place/temple names in the surrounding hills. In any direction one looked, the text would be oriented to be read as if one were in the center of the map. If one looks closely, the names in Japanese Kanji are upside down on any given close side and right-side up on the opposite side. If we examine a detail of an eastern section of the city as if we were viewing from that side, the large character for east is oriented correctly at the bottom, closest to the viewer.

Eastern detail from the Large map of Kyoto (1699)

Eastern detail from the Large map of Kyoto (1699)

Looking west, all the kanji toponyms in the surrounding hills and suburbs are upside down from the close edge going toward Sanjo bridge (in orange) which crosses over the Kamo River. As soon as one crosses the Sanjo bridge the kanji orientation is inverted and the characters can all be read as an intellectual/perspectival shift has taken place as one visually crosses the bridge. And if one continued looking across the map to the western hills of the city the kanji would all be oriented correctly and easily read. This reminds us that a viewer looked at this map sitting on the floor, with no single orientation favored. Hayashi has taken into consideration that in Japan the viewers of the map were meant to move around the map or the map was meant to be moved around by the viewer. This viewer/object/perspective interaction is quite complex in conception and very different from large European maps of the period, typically hung on a wall with only one viewing orientation. The viewer was able to navigate the map intellectually in multiple ways that the map maker had intentionally manipulated to enable such movements.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, dated 1734–36. Folded sheet map, ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 836.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, dated 1734–36. Folded sheet map, ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 836.

Hayashi’s maps of Kyoto also have extensive textual information presented. By the early eighteenth century, widely popular books on travel created narrative itinerary maps of Kyoto. Kaibara Ekiken’s (1630–1714) Excellent Views of the Capital (Keijo shoran), published in 1706, describes a seventeen-day trip around the capital, providing distance and direction to sites so readers could orient themselves spatially, and it all begins at the unofficial center of Kyoto, Sanjo bridge. A second map of Kyoto by Hayashi in the MacLean Collection, also entitled Large map of Kyoto (Kyo oezu) and dated 1734–36, incorporates sites elaborately described in these books. Visually a number of compositional changes have occurred; the coloring for water is light brown for this and the later version discussed here; and the overall scale of the inner city has expanded while the outer hills and suburbs have been compressed.

Detail of Sanjo bridge from Large map of Kyoto (1734–36)

Detail of Sanjo bridge from Large map of Kyoto (1734–36)

Not only descriptions of temples, shrines and historical sites, but also tea houses, imperial villas and tombs, and waterfalls are given throughout map. In addition, directions on how to move about the city are also provided for interested tourists, either actual or virtual. Hayashi too has chosen Sanjo bridge to geolocate the center of Kyoto and as a starting point for navigating around the city.

Around the bridge can be seen many toponyms and descriptions that are oriented in multiple directions, again implying multiple perspectives for viewing. On this map, Sanjo bridge as city center is also confirmed in the large inset at bottom center entitled “Kyoto’s Sanjo Bridge: Record of the ways (from the bridge) as well as distances” (Kyo Sanjo ohashi yori hoho e no hokaku mata michinori no ki) that includes a range of important and scenic locations throughout the city.

Text showing locations from Large map of Kyoto (1734–36)

Text showing locations from Large map of Kyoto (1734–36)

Hayashi’s final Large map of Kyoto, published in 1741 and shown below, increased the height by 20 cm and scale of the city proper to accommodate an even greater amount of additional information. It is interesting to note that the relative scale of inner and outer sections of the city change visually again, as Hayashi’s focus for each edition of Kyoto shifts back and forth in emphasis between text and image. This map not only visually separates inner/outer, but also physically separates north/south with two separate printed halves. The dividing point between the two halves is the east/west Sanjo Road, the road depicted along the neat line border of the northern/top map.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, Japan. 1741, folded sheet map (in two parts), ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 29633.

Hayashi Yoshinaga, Large map of Kyoto, Japan. 1741, folded sheet map (in two parts), ink and color on paper. MacLean Collection 29633.

This map is packed with insets and charts with extensive information gathered from earlier editions that have been updated yet again with some sixteen hundred major and minor Buddhist temples and shrines, as well as some two hundred and fifty Shinto Temples and shrines, all catalogued by sects and distinguished using various keyed geometric shapes. The most significant newly added element to note is the fancy compass rose found at the bottom center, replacing the Sanjo bridge textual inset. In this edition, the word “record” is replaced with the word “diagram” in the title “Kyoto’s Sanjo Bridge: Diagram of the ways (from the bridge) as well as distances”

Detail from Large map of Kyoto (1741)

Detail from Large map of Kyoto (1741)

Using yet another manner of conceiving space in two dimensions,this compass rose is divided into the twelve traditional Japanese compass directions. Essentially taking the same textual information found on the earlier text-only record inset, here information about distance is written in text while the direction is indicated by the compass rose itself. This enables the viewer to visualize an intellectual itinerary, in a similar way to Ekikan’s narrative itinerary, using this diagram to navigate. In both cases one could visualize and travel through Kyoto using the narrative or the map.

As we have seen, the rackuchu rakugai screens dissected and separated time and space, while these maps of Kyoto presented multiple orientations, visualizations and perspectives through the use of the worm’s-eye view, inner/outer cityscapes, north/south divisions and a compass rose all anchored to the landscape itself. These large format cartographic objects depicting Kyoto enable unique and fascinating navigational pathways that intellectually and physically bring together the landscapes of Kyoto. Hayashi’s presentations also confirm the power of combining textual and visual landscapes that enable remembrance as well as the creation of new place memories.

Selected Bibliography

Kären Wigen, Fumiko Sugimoto, and Cary Karacas, eds., Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Matthew P. McKelway, Capitalscapes: Folding Screens and Political Imagination in Late Medieval Kyoto (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

Toyosawa Nobuko, Imaginative Mapping: Landscape and Japanese Identity in the Tokugawa and Meiji Eras, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019).

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