Ryūsenzu 流宣図 is an epoch-making style of map from the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). The name “Ryūsenzu” is derived from Ishikawa Ryūsen (or Tomonobu), an ukiyo-e artist and a literary author. As of April 2017, eight versions of the Ryūsen-style Japanese map can be seen in the “Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era” section of the University of British Columbia Library Open Collections (see Table 1).

Table.1 Japanese Maps by Ishikawa Ryūsen in UBC Collections


Figure. 1 Honchō zukan kōmoku 本朝圖鑑綱目. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1686



Figure. 2 Honchō zukan kōmoku 本朝圖鑑綱目. Kyoto: Hayashi Yoshinaga, 1689



Figure. 3 Nihon kaizan chōrikuzu 日本海山潮陸図. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1691


Figure. 4 Nihon zukan kōmoku 日本圖鑑綱目. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1697



Figure. 5 Nihon sankai zudō taizen 日本山海圖道大全. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1697


Figure. 6 Dai Nihon shōtō zukan 大日本正統圖鑑. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1702



Figure. 7 Nihon sankai zudō taizen 日本山海圖道大全. Edo: Sagamiya Tahē, 1703


Figure. 8 Dai Nihonkoku ōezu 大日本國大繪圖. Edo: Yamaguchiya Gonbē, 1717

The above maps from a collection that effectively illustrates some essential characteristics of Ryūsenzu.

Until the 1980s, studies of old maps were conducted by collectors or map historians. Today’s study of historical maps is a multidisciplinary field in which researchers in art history, literature, philosophy, geography, political science, economy, and cultural studies work on independent or collaborative projects. [1] Regarding the study of Ryūsenzu, the historical geographer Miyoshi Tadayoshi examined Ryūsen-sytle Japanese in political and cultural aspects. However, there was no argument about authorship or content by researchers in the field of literature, although Ryūsen was an energetic author of popular works in the eighteenth-century Edo period.

This short description sheds light on Ryūsenzu as a literary author’s map in the context of publishing and print culture. I hope the description helps you to understand these best-seller maps as cultural commodities and illustrates Ryūsen’s cross-disciplinary activities and imagination.


Who was Ishikawa Ryūsen?

Ishikawa Ryūsen 石川流宣 (born: late seventeenth century?) was a cross-genre creator. As an author, he wrote a variety of popular works such as ukiyo-zōshi 浮世草子 (kana booklets), hanashi-bon 噺本; humorous books), enpon 艶本 (erotica), and guidebooks. His major works are Kōshoku Edo murasaki 好色江戸紫 (Amorous Edo-style Purple), Shojiki banashi ōkagami 正直咄大鑑 (Anthology of Really Funny Stories), and Yamato kōsakushō 大和耕作繪抄 (Illustrated annotation of Japanese Farming). He also co-authored a series of erotica prints with Furuyama Moroshige 古山師重). He was highly regarded as a map composer even though his accomplishments covered broad areas. In other words, his multiple talents included creating a unique style of maps for popular audiences.


What is Ryūsenzu?

“Ryūsenze” mean Ryūsen-style Japanese maps. Although Ryūsen made a variety of maps, including world maps and maps of the city of Edo, both scholars and collectors have tended to focus on Ryūsen’s maps of Japan. Unlike his other maps, his maps of Japan were reprinted, revised, and remodeled over and over for almost a hundred years. For example, Nihon kaizan chōrikuzu 日本海山潮陸図, 1691; see Figure 3) was the most successful Ryūsenzu and was reprinted at least twenty-eight times.[2]

Figure. 9 Wavy Coastline

Two things made Ryūsen’s maps of Japan popular: visual appeal and informative contents. As an ukiyoe painter, Ryūsen stressed aesthetic values rather than the topographic accuracy of his maps of Japan when he created his style. The maps consist mainly of three islands—Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshu—shaped by unique wavy coastlines. Ryūsen embedded these islands in a horizontally oblong, rectangular frame and used various techniques for color coding to differentiate domains, sea, mountains, and other symbols in his maps. Interestingly, his early productions were mostly in the form of folded screens byōbu or 屏風) instead of sheets of paper. [3] He produced maps of Japan as artworks rather than as practical publications.

Figure. 10 Byōbu

Ryūsen also developed an infographic design style to provide administrative information on the locations of domains, the names of feudal lords, and their annual incomes, as well as on Japan’s principal cities, roads, stations, shipping routes, etc., with his sophisticated printing skills (Figures 1, 2, 4, and 6). One reason Ryūsenzu maps were often revised was that such administrative information frequently had to be updated.

A comparison of the eight maps from the UBC Library Open Collections suggests that Ryūsen-style Japanese maps transformed gradually from artistic maps into practical travel-guide maps. The amount of travel-guide content increased in later Ryūsenzu maps. Famous temples, shrines, and mountains, etc. were included in the maps, along with tide charts, etc. (Figures 3, 5, 7 and 8).

Figure. 11 Tide Chart

For example, Dai Nihonkoku ōezu 大日本國大繪圖 (Figure 8) has more practical, travel-oriented information than the seven other maps, although this came at the cost of the other maps’ decorative and colorful features. Reducing color coding could have helped to save on production costs. Dai Nihonkoku ōezu was probably sold as a reasonably priced map even though it had more information than the other maps. Ryūsen’s experience as a writer of travel guidebooks allowed him to invent highly informative travel-guide maps. These administrative and travel-guide maps were published in parallel. To understand the transformation of Ryūsenzu’s contents, his maps should be compared to one another. Comparing the eight maps will be a good way for me to start this study.

The following table organizes the bibliographical lineage of the eight maps.[4]


Table 2. The Bibliographical Lineage of the Eight Maps


The End of the Ryūsenzu Boom

Ryūsen played an important role in disseminating a certain image of Japan among commoners until another epoch-making map, Sekizuizu 赤水図, appeared in the late eighteenth century. Sekisuizu was a map style that was developed by the geographer Nagakubo Sekisui 長久保赤水; 1717-1801). Sekisui wanted to accurately represent the topography of the Japanese archipelago in maps. He referenced multiple geographic and historical sources to produce Kaisei Nihon Yochi rotei zenzu 改正日本輿地路程全図, 1779). Although the map was not composed using land survey data, it contains accurate topographic information. As a result, Sekisuizu took from Ryūsenzu the position of the best-selling map among commoner readers and was reprinted over and over by the end of the Tokugawa period.[5]

The end of the Ryūsenzu boom suggests a transformation of consumer behavior. Commoners’ interest was shifting, in the late Tokugawa period, from narrative space to geopolitical and scientific space. Map consumers increasingly sought maps composed by geography experts instead of maps created by cross-genre authors.

Ryūsen’s cross-genre accomplishments were not unique during the Tokugawa period. Ihara Saikaku 井原西鶴, 1642-1693), the leading author of ukiyo-zōshi, contributed illustrations to his works. Many haiku poets also contributed their illustrations. As for maps, consumers accepted those that were composed by cross-genre illustrators during Ryūsen’s epoch. Studying Ryūsenzu gives us an opportunity to explore the emergence of professional writers who focused on textual creativity.



[1] Kuroda Hideo 黒田日出男, Mary Elizabeth Berry and Sugimoto Fumiko 杉本史子, “Hajime ni はじめに,” in Chizu to ezu no seiji bunkashi 地図と絵図の政治文化史 (Mapping and Politics in Premodern Japan), Kuroda Hideo, Mary Elizabeth Berry, and Sugimoto Fumiko, eds. (Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, 2001), i.

[2] Miyoshi Tadayoshi 三好唯義 “Ishikawa Ryūsen-saku Nihonzu: Edo jidai ni okeru besuto serā Nihonzu 石川流宣作日本図:江戸時代におけるベストセラー日本図,” in Chizu to bunka 地図と文化, Hisatake Tetsuya 久武哲也, and Hasegawa Kōji長谷川孝治, eds., (Kyoto: Chijin Shobō, 1989), 39.

[3] Kokusai Chizu Gakkai 国際地理学会, Kokusai Chizu Gakkai 国際地理学会, and Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan 国立国会図書館, eds., “General Maps of Japan: 6. Nihok kaisan chōrikuzu,” in Nihon no chizuten: kansen chizu no hattatsu 日本の地図展: 官撰地図の発達 (Cartography in Japan: Official Maps Past and Present), exhibition catalogue, 25 August-5 September 1980, Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan, Tokyo), 58, 77.

[4] Akioka Takejirō and Miyoshi Tadayoshi categorize Ryūsenzu into three types. Miyoshi Tadayoshi 三好唯義, “Iwayuru Ryūsen Nihonzu ni tsuite いわゆる流宣日本図について,” Chizu地図27:6 (1989): 3, accessed on March 26, 2017, doi: 10.11212/jjca1963.27.3_1

[5] Miyoshi, “Ishikawa Ryūsen-saku Nihonzu: Edo jidai ni okeru besuto serā Nihonzu,” 39.


Works Cited

Ishikawa Ryūsen 石川流宣. [1687?]. Kōshoku Edo murasaki 好色江戸紫. Tokyo: Waseda University Library Kotenseki Sogo Database.

———. [1688?]. Shojiki banashi ōkagami 正直咄大鑑. Tokyo: Waseda University Library Kotenseki Sogo Database.

———.  Yamato kōsakushō 大和耕作繪抄. Facsimile. [Not before 1868]. Tokyo: National Institute of Japanese Literature Kindai shoshi kindai gazo dētabēsu 近代書誌・近代画像データベース.

Kokusai Chizu Gakkai 国際地理学会, Kokusai Chizu Gakkai 国際地理学会, and Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan 国立国会図書館, eds. “General Maps of Japan: 6. Nihok kaisan chōrikuzu.” In Nihon no chizuten: kansen chizu no hattatsu 日本の地図展: 官撰地図の発達 (Cartography in Japan: Official Maps Past and Present). Exhibition catalogue, 25 August-5 September 1980. Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan, Tokyo. 58, 77.

Kuroda Hideo 黒田日出男, Mary Elizabeth Berry, and Sugimoto Fumiko 杉本史子. “Hajime ni はじめに.” Edited by Kuroda Hideo, Mary Elizabeth Berry and Sugimoto Fumiko. In Chizu to ezu no seiji bunkashi 地図と絵図の政治文化史 (Mapping and Politics in Premodern Japan). Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, 2001. i-v.

Miyoshi Tadayoshi 三好唯義 “Ishikawa Ryūsen-saku Nihonzu: Edo jidai ni okeru besuto serā Nihonzu 石川流宣作日本図:江戸時代におけるベストセラー日本図.” In Chizu to bunka 地図と文化., Hisatake Tetsuya 久武哲也 and Hasegawa Kōji長谷川孝治, eds. Kyoto: Chijin Shobō, 1989. 38-39.

———. “Iwayuru Ryūsen Nihonzu ni tsuite いわゆる流宣日本図について.” Chizu 地図27:6 (1989): 3. Accessed on March 26, 2017. Doi: 10.11212/jjca1963.27.3_1

Shogakukan 小学館. “Byōbu no renketsuhō 屏風の連結法.” In Nihon hyakka zensho 日本大百科全書. Accessed on March 26, 2017.


Contributor: Saeko
March 29, 2017
(Updated April 3, 2017)