Adventures in oversized imaging: digitizing the Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map from 1837

November 17, 2015
Deardra Fuzzell
Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map, 1837

A historic manuscript map and a gem of the Stanford Library Map Collection, the Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map from 1837 is hand drawn and painted in the round. This map is designed to be displayed on the floor with the viewer standing in its center. From this central vantage point, the map may be read with ease from any direction. As this display and viewing method is no longer possible for a map fast approaching its 200th birthday, Stanford has recently digitized this item to enable access for research, teaching and learning as well as preservation of the original object. 

 At the special request of Kären Wigen, the Frances and Charles Field Professor in History at Stanford, this map was imaged as a part of an ongoing project to digitize our 'large map' holdings. The Map Measures 11' x 17'  and was too large to image in our oversized imaging lab as it was stored folded for many years and was too fragile to safely manipulate on our oversized imaging table. In the image below Wayne Vanderkuil, our lead photographer is shown next to the map for a sense of scale. Wayne is 6' 4" tall.

Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map, 1837

 We were able find another location on campus in the lobby of the Stanford Mitchell Building to image the map. The area underneath the spiral staircase leading up to the Branner Earth Sciences Library on the second floor of the building provided a perfect space to perch the camera and plenty of room to work with the map. We constructed a mobile lab on the spot using a Canon 6D camera with a 100mm Schneider lens, grey paper, AR2 plexi glass, mobile umbrella lights and cotton twine with weights to use as guides. We also tethered the camera to a tablet so that we could easily see the capture window and operate the shutter remotely.

It was neccesary to do the imaging at night, as the lobby is a heavily trafficked area directly in front of an elevator and in the middle of two main access points for the building. We were able to image the map over the course of 7 hours in two separate sessions on October 15th and 17th of 2015 between the hours of 2am and 7am. Pictures from our nocturnal imaging sessions can be seen below.

 Imaging the Omi Kuniezu Map

The Map was imaged at 165ppi, which was ample for the large detail size, and captured in a total of 158 tiles. The images were then mosaiced together in Photoshop to produce the final composite.

 Stitching the right half of Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 in Photoshop


The Final Map Image:

  • 34, 342 x 22, 939 pixels
  • 787.8 megapixels
  • 1.27gb LZW Compress Tiff file


Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map, 1837

The Level of detail we were able to capture is excellent. One can see the brush strokes in the pigment, the grain of the mulberry paper, and in the final image below, the insect damage that this nearly two century old map has suffered over time.

Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map, 1837


Ōmi Kuni-ezu 近江國絵圖 Japanese Tax Map, 1837

Through the careful efforts of DPGs photographers and staff, visitors and online viewers alike may now safely enjoy both the beautiful, fully extended object and high-resolution details of each part of this rare and historically important map.

Please check out the Persistent URL for this map by Clicking on the link below!

Blog post by Deardra Fuzzell, Cartographic Technology Specialist for the Branner Earth Sciences Library and Digital Production Group member Wayne Vanderkuil, Lead Photographer 

Access to the physical and digital objects:

Persistent URL for digital version of the map 

Record for the physical object in Searchworks


Further reading:

How Big is a Big Map? Digitizing William Smith's Stratified Map of England, Scotland and Wales from 1815

One large feat for Stanford's Oversized Imaging Lab