Edo zukan kōmoku kon

Edo zukan kōmoku kon is a seventeenth-century city map of Edo. What sets it apart from other maps from the same period, however, is its size (roughly 1.3 metres squared) and detail. Whether online or in person, looking at this map for the first time is a little intimidating! This post will give readers an introduction to this map and some of its most striking features, as well as comparing it with a modern map to see what it can teach us about Edo and Tokyo, then and now.

Edo zukan kōmoku kon – roughly translated as “Illustrated Map of Edo, Part 2” – is a map of Edo city dating from 1689, nearly nine decades after the establishment of the Tokugawa bakufu (sometimes translated as “shogunate”). Edo at this point had begun, but not yet completed, the process of development and urban growth that later turned it, according to some, into the largest city in the world. Edo of this period was a bustling city populated by samurai employed by the bakufu or forced to attend as part of the system of alternate attendance, merchants whose businesses were gradually upsetting the old balance of wealth, peasants who had come looking for work, geographically and socially marginalised outcasts, and many others.

Although there is precious little information available about the artist, Ishikawa Ryūsen, what is certain is that he was an artist of ukiyoe woodblock prints. Ukiyoe (literally “pictures of the floating world,” a Buddhist term that came to refer to the Edo demimonde) were prints that were made for commercial consumption, particularly in Edo and other cities. The fact that this map was drawn by a commercial artist, along with the high degree of detail, list of samurai households in the southeast corner, and accompanying guidebook to Edo’s streets and samurai households suggest that it was probably meant for commercial consumption by those not familiar with Edo – in other words, samurai coming as part of the system of alternate attendance.


In order to familiarise the reader with the map, this post will begin by looking at the map as a whole. At its most basic, the map is a guide to Edo, laid out with Edo Castle (御城) at the centre. Rivers and Edo Bay are coloured in blue, streets in yellow, and most other areas in white. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the map is its labelling: roads, bridges, and rivers are labelled with names or numbers, fields are denoted with the character 田, and residential areas occupied by samurai are meticulously labelled with the family that owns them and, for the largest estates, the clan’s crest (mon). Landmarks that might appeal to potential purchasers of the map – almost entirely temples and shrines, though also the ponds or gardens around them – are accompanied by small illustrations.

Modern Comparison

What is most striking about this map, however, is its geographical accuracy. When placed side-by-side with a map of modern Tokyo, it is relatively straightforward for even those unfamiliar with Tokyo or the Japanese language to match river to river, landmark to landmark, and draw connections between the Edo of 1689 and the Tokyo of almost 330 years later. In other words, this map, with seventeenth century survey techniques instead of satellite imagery, managed to reproduce the layout of Edo so accurately that it is familiar to our modern eyes. A portion of the eastern part of the map (corresponding to part of today’s Sumida City) is even given in cutaway rather than compromise completeness or geographical accuracy, illustrating just how important this was in the creation of the map.

For Edo period viewers, the map’s accuracy and meticulous labelling would have eased in navigation of an unfamiliar city, making clear at a glance where to go, how to get there, and how far it would be. For modern viewers, this gives the unique opportunity to compare certain landmarks from Edo zukan kōmoku kon and modern Tokyo. This post will outline four: Edo Castle, Nihonbashi, the estates of the Gosanke, and the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters.

Edo Castle

Lying at the middle and labelled with some of the largest text on the map is Edo Castle, the seat of the Tokugawa bakufu. In a political system where administration was centralised and the construction of castles was highly restricted, the size and placement of Edo Castle were a physical reminder of the power of the bakufu – Edo was built around Edo Castle and not the other way around. Sharp-eyed readers will notice, however, that Edo Castle is conspicuously absent in modern maps, and that in its place is the Imperial Palace, the seat of Japan’s royal family. When the Tokugawa period ended in 1868 and the emperor was (theoretically) restored to supreme power, Edo Castle was handed over to the imperial family. This map allows readers to see the gravity of this political move: the complex that was at the heart of Edo, both geographically and metaphorically, had been handed over to the new rulers.


Edo Castle may have been at the heart of the city, but there was another landmark that was thought to mark the centre of not just Edo, but Japan as a whole: the Nihonbashi bridge. Nihonbashi was the endpoint of the highways leading to Edo, and the point at which all journeys to and from Edo were thought to start and end. The major roads leading into and out of Edo – and even many of the city streets, if followed to their ends – terminate at Nihonbashi. Interestingly, although the original wooden bridge is long gone, Nihonbashi’s central position in many ways continues until today – for instance, distances on Japanese road signs are still measured relative to the middle of Nihonbashi.


Sharp-eyed readers may already have noticed the focus of the next paragraph: the three largest samurai estates other than Edo Castle itself, located on the north, west, and southwest edges of the river that frames central Edo. These large plots of land, labelled with the triple hollyhock of the Tokugawa clan, are the residences of the Gosanke, the three highest branch houses of the Tokugawa clan during this period. Labelled counter-clockwise from north, the three estates in the above image belong to the Mito, Owari, and Kii branches, respectively. In a city where the size of one’s household corresponded directly to one’s wealth and influence, the large sizes of the Gosanke residences are a visual representation of the way power was distributed under the Tokugawa. It should come as little surprise that none of these areas remain in the hands of these families: like Edo Castle the Kii residence was presented to the imperial family following the Meiji Restoration, the Owari residence is now the headquarters of the Japanese Ministry of Defence, and the Mito residence is the site of a garden first cultivated by members of the Mito clan in the seventeenth century, but now open to the public.


The final landmark on the map, the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, are entirely unlike the rest – peripheral and only minimally labelled. First granted to a brothel keeper named Jin’emon in 1617, the Yoshiwara became the only location that legitimate prostitution could take place in the early Edo period. In 1656 the bakufu relocated the Yoshiwara northwards to what is now Asakusa, where it remained for the rest of the Edo period and where it can be seen on this map. Although small, the Yoshiwara became a central focus in urban fashion and culture, ukiyoe prints, and the commercial landscape of Edo. The Yoshiwara also lay just south of the Tokugawa execution grounds and the burakumin outcast community most widely known as Sanya. Notably, the edge of the map stops just short of where Sanya would likely be, suggesting that (at least in the mind of the creator), outcast communities were thought to lie outside the boundaries of Edo proper. Moreover, thanks to programs by modern governments, the history of this area has been obscured: a largely unremarkable neighbourhood now exists where the Yoshiwara once did, and it is all but impossible now to find the exact borders of what used to be called Sanya. This is perhaps the most striking example of how the fabric of cities can be reshaped by the passage of time and reform-minded authorities.

*    *    *

In sum, there is a lot that this map can teach us: how the urban landscape of Edo reflected its society and the distribution of wealth and power within it, how the past has influenced modern Tokyo, and how governments have ensured that it has not. Most of all, however, this post has aimed to familiarise readers with this map and others like it. By no means was there the space to describe every point of detail on this map (perhaps no one individual could) – all that can be done is to leave it to those reading this to carry on the study.


Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000.

Nakane Chie and Shinzaburō Ōishi, ed. Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1990.

Percival, Robert. Ukiyo-e: Art for the People. Saint John, N.B.: New Brunswick Museum, 1978.

Stanley, Amy. Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.