Kyoto: The Cultural Capital

 The imperial capital has held prominence beginning from the medieval period when the imperial line reigned. Kyoto’s legacy as a prominent capital continued even after the transition of power from the Yamamoto emperors to the shogunate, and the migration of court to bakufu, and the capital from Kyoto to Edo. After the shift of the state legislative body into the bakufu structure, the rise of the samurai saw a migration of governing power to Edo. Albeit without serious legislative abilities, the Kyoto imperial court remained central to Japan, garnering a title as a heritage-rich miyako during a period of growing stability and peace.

Under Tokugawa reign, the previous havoc of the Sengogku period was replaced by order and stability under a warrior class scrutinized society. The idea of miyako came to be associated with Kyoto during this time. The traditional capital represented a culturally-rich centre and the origin of Japanese art forms, namely the traditional crafts of Yuzen dye, Nishijin fabric, and Kenzan pottery.

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Screen paintings depicted life inside the cultural capital, where not only nobles and samurai lived but commoners, artisans and merchants also thrived in a relatively fluid social structure. Through screen-paintings depicting the rich heritage of Kyoto, the spread of literary works depicting lavish courtly lives of Kyoto and so on, this miyako conception of Kyoto spread throughout Japan. The popularization of Kyoto as a cultural capital rich in crafts and tradition prompted people of the common classes to make pilgrimages to Kyoto, which was otherwise known as jōkyō 上京, meaning “ascend to the capital”, as the last stop on the Tokaidō highway since the 8th century.

Scenes in and around the Capital

In accordance with the conventions on the Tokaidō, a monk on a pilgrimage (which any traveler was assumed to be due to strict mobility laws) would either be making his way to the Ise shrine, Koya mountain, or the areas around Kyoto, which were the three most famous spiritual destinations in Japan. Nenzi (2008), in his Travel and the Intersection of Place, Gender, and Status in Edo Japan, makes a parallel between Kiyomizu Temple and the Fudaraku, which was a popular canonical allusion to paradise at the time. If one buys the theory of jōkyō for spiritual reasons, or even perhaps just to witness the temples of oneself, this example portrays how Kyoto could be attractive as a tourist destination.

Another major motive for travel is taken on by artisans, who hoped to learn the well-known crafts and arts directly from the cultural centre; they would study the crafts then bring it back home to establish their own name in the craft. As a result, towns around Japan transformed themselves into “little Kyotos,” dedicating industries of craft production  throughout the Edo period. A good example of this is Kanazawa.


The Genre of Commercial Maps

One may find it uncanny that the streets are exactly the same today when tourists arrive from all over the world to visit this centre of traditional Japanese culture. Now that we seem to understand some of the appeals for visiting Kyoto in the premodern period, we can use this “gravitation towards Kyoto due to its tradition and culture” to perhaps explain what prompted the emergence of commercial map-making in the second half of the 1600 Tokugawa Japan.

The appearance of commercial maps first began in the 17th century after the woodblock printing technique became available. Publication before the mass-printing option consisted mostly official, religious or private manuscripts drawn by hand on manuscripts whose audience was limited to the elites. With the arrival of the print technology, Yonemoto express the befallen trend of a  “secularization of travel” where travel is no longer conducted just for official purposes, commoners engaged in religious pilgrimages for leisure under religious guise.

The emerging maps depicted extravagant details including the “distances on roads, sightseeing venues, historical sites, markets, commercial districts, temples and shrines; they also contain information about daimyō, including the value of their lands and the locations of their residences.” (Yonemoto, 14)

The Kyō ōezu

The Kyō ōezu is a map of Kyoto made by Hayashi Yoshinaga in 1686. The map is produced from first applying a wood-block print then hand-colored each individually using light yellow, light green and varying shades of brown or vermillion orange. All the prints I came across were colored, varying in degrees of saturation from faint colors to rich vermillion and greens. Some copies were more lavish than others which seems to indicate they were painted by a variety of artists rather than just one. Nevertheless, the original print is made by Hayashi himself who would be considered as the publisher as well.

Click here to view this item in the UBC maps collection.

The map itself measures around 164 cm x 122 cm when spread open, which was quite large compared to the style at a time. It is bound in a style where the covers are attached to the back of two corners diagonal to each-other and  folded into the size of 24 cm by 16 cm for portability. Since its size is enormous when unfolded, it is hard to imagine any practicality in opening it while on the road. Therefore, many scholars note that the map is likely opened up solely indoors, spread on the tatami floor for view. The folded option, additionally, allows the traveler to carry the map from places to places or even back home as a souvenir of his or her travel. Scholars have also noted that considering the elaborate details, use of color, its enormous size and viewing-style, it is very likely for the map to have been a popular souvenir for friends or family at home during the period. Having such a detailed map, the souvenir can also allow imagined travel and serve as “entertainment for the vicarious traveler.” (Shively, 738)

1696 cover (folded map 24cm x 16 cm)

Another indicator of the map’s prominence as a tourism tool is evident from the numerous copy that various libraries or museums hold world-wide. I began with Yoshinaga’s “Shinsen Zōhō Kyō Ōezu” dating from 1691 that is titled, the “Newly compiled and enlarged plan of Kyoto,” but it turns out, multiple versions of Yoshinaga’s Kyo Oezu map can be found in various collections. Out of the ten versions I was able to access, I have found four distinct dates of the map; with the earliest from 1686 and subsequent versions in 1691, 1696, and 1709 respectively. (On an interesting note, all the maps documented measurements that vary slightly. Between the ten, even among ones dating from the same year, the length varied between 162cm and 166 cm, while the width ranged between 121cm and 125cm.)

Innovative Techniques

Some scholars have praised the Kyō Ōezu for making positive contributions to mapping techniques at the time, marking a new era of map style with Yoshinaga’s innovative designs.  First of all, rather than filling in the city blocks with ink, Yoshinaga created the style of shironuki, which means ‘leaving it white’, to allow inscription of road names, land owner titles, or names of the temple.

For Comparison, see the image below.

The left-side map is the Shinpan Heianjo Narabini, dating from 1681, the wood-block style is older, and the filled city blocks take up room that could be used to fill in more information.

The size of Yoshinaga’s Kyō ōezu was also a lot larger than then other Edo period maps ata the time. It also tried to fit other notable meishōs around Kyoto such as Uji, but for actual distance suffered in consequence.

Special Features to Note

The following list of features are mapping styles that Yoshinaga retained from earlier Tokugawa style commercial maps: (1) distance charts, (2) information on meishōs, (3) street names displayed in different directions for the convenience of the viewer, and (4) a legend that features Japanese alphabet in place of writing in tiny street names.

1) Distance Chart:
On the bottom of the map, a distance charge in the measure of li 里 is drawn into the map to give users sense of distance from ichi jyo 一条 (1st street) to famous temples or meisho.


2) Detailed Information on Meishō:
Everywhere on the map, detailed information on famous temples can be seen to give map-readers insight into the meisho. This is a tradition passed down from earlier manuscripts and publication, as many works including emerging guidebooks in the Edo period were notated with poems, literary references, or detailed information about the history of the structure.

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3) Multi-directional Inscriptions:
For the convenience of the map-reader, multiple directional writing were employed on the map. For example, information about a specific temple would be written from top to bottom in the same direction as the temple is drawn, where as street names were mostly written inwards to the centre of the map.

5) Odoi 御土居:
The odoi was a man-made wall surrounding the capital ordered to be built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi during his reign in the 16th century. The walls surrounded the centre of Kyoto.

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Contributor: Yuyu Lee

(Edited by Elle Marsh)