The Libraries are resuming limited in-person research activities by appointment only as part of the University's Research Restart Plan.
Learn more about the Libraries' entry requirements and available services.

Japanese maps

This guide provides information on Japanese maps in Stanford collections housed at the David Rumsey Map Center, Branner Earth Sciences Library, and East Asia Library, as well as georeferenced maps of Japan held in EarthWorks, and reference materials on the history of cartography in Japan.

Fun facts

History of printing in Japan

  • Woodblock medium popular 
  • Earliest examples of printing in Japan date back to 764
  • Printing moved east into Japan with Buddhism
  • Virtual monopoly held by Buddhist temples
  • Japanese fastidious about printing
  • Printers credited in Japanese texts because their craftsmanship was esteemed 
  • Copperplate engraving introduced by the Jesuits in the 16th century - allowed a fine line for greater detail and enhanced legibility, as well as larger print runs
  • Lithography introduced in 1873 and used for books, postcards, currency, stamps, illustrations, and maps

Maps and mapmaking

  • Great interest in cartographic science and aesthetics
  • This interest was also held by the greater population, as evidenced by the popularity of tourist maps 
  • Visual perspective pointed in all four directions rather than toward a single horizon line  
  • Multiple perspectives were offered to accommodate viewers on all sides
  • Hospitality inherent in multiplicity of viewpoints


  • Reverence for manuscript culture; manuscripts preserved at libraries
  • In the Edo Period, 1615-1868, citizens were not allowed to leave Japan and information flow was limited
  • Castaways who returned recorded stories in manuscript format and shared at lending libraries

History of mapmaking in Japan

Excerpts from Kazutaka Unno's Maps and Mapmaking in Japan, 2008, in Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures*

The first record of Japanese mapmaking was a map created by Imperial order in AD 646 and included in the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), 720, the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history, which is the most complete surviving historical record of ancient Japan.

The edict ordered that each province report its territorial range to the central government by means of a map. However, no fragment of such a map is extant now. 

The earliest extant maps relate to land ownership and date from the eighth century. On these maps we can observe the traditional Chinese grid system. The majority of them are drawn on hemp.  

The earliest extant map of the world is the GoTenjiku Zu (Map of the Five Indies), drawn by Jūkai, a Buddhist priest, in 1364. The map includes the Buddhist continent called Jambudvīpa. India occupies a great part of the continent; and China, Persia, Japan, and many countries of Central Asia are shown. 

Other early maps still in existence, dating back to the 16th century, show coastal and political boundary lines, as well as the main routes connected to the once-existing Yamashiro province, where Kyoto is located (and was the capital of Japan at the time).

Maps showing such delineations are called “Gyōki-type” maps, because they have an inscription indicating that the author was Gyōki (668–749), a revered Buddhist priest. (But no one believes today that they were actually the work of Gyōki, for the capital in his time was not Kyoto but Nara, Yamato Province.)

European cartographical works were introduced to Japan in the late sixteenth century, and the coastlines of the Gyōki-type maps came to be drawn in detail, especially in the area of Kyūshū. This revision seems to have been done by the European pilots and by the Portuguese Ignacio Moreira, who resided in Japan between 1590 and 1592. 

The Tokugawa Shogunate, which held its hegemony for two and a half centuries until 1867, gave orders for cartographical records of all provinces on five occasions during its reign. For the third project, the Shogunate also required the province to submit the plans of cities where the clan offices were located. These maps and plans are huge and beautifully colored. All of the maps of the fifth project, and some earlier ones, are still extant in the National Archives in Tokyo. 

General maps of Japan based on the provincial maps were compiled on each occasion except the fifth project. The earliest extant official map of Japan is the so-called Keichō map of Japan, compiled in the mid-seventeenth century and now in the National Diet Library, Tokyo. 

The best of the official maps of Japan compiled during the Edo era (1603-1868) is the so-called Shōhō map of Japan, based on the results of the third cartographical project, and completed around 1670. Compiled by the famous surveyor Hōjō Ujinaga, this map shows the shape of the Japanese archipelago which is very close to actuality. 

These maps strongly influenced private works of cartography, such as Nihon Bunkei Zu (Map of Japan Divided into Parts), 1666, the first printed atlas of Japan. 

In traditional cartography, little attention was paid to the existence of spherical coordinates, but latitudes are shown in the portolan charts of Japan (ca. 1670). 

The first map of Japan with a network of parallels and meridians was Mori Kōan’s Nihon Bun’ya Zu (Astronomical Map of Japan), 1754. The lines were simply added to the already existing official map. 

The first map of Japan that was based on actual observation of degrees of longitude and latitude was completed by officials of the Shogunate astronomical observatory in 1821. The surveying began in 1800 and mainly concentrated on the coastlines, as the title DaiNihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu (Maps of the Coastlines of Great Japan) shows. 

The supervisor of the surveying throughout was the astronomer Inō Tadataka, and all the maps thus made in this project are called “Inō’s maps”. The 1821 maps consisted of 214 sheets on a scale of 1:36,000, eight sheets of 1:216,000, and three sheets of 1:432,000. 

The making of topographical maps by triangulation began in 1781, and in 1944 the entire country was depicted on maps with a scale of 1:50,000. Western style charts began to be systematically executed by the navy in 1871.

*Unno K. (2008) Maps and Mapmaking in Japan. In: Selin H. (eds) Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer, Dordrecht.

Cartographic collections

Travel through Time: Japan

Kii no Kuni Ama-gun Kadaura Awashima Jinja zu = 紀伊國海部郡加太浦淡島神社圖 / [not after 1896]

Collection of materials related to travel in Japan between 17th century and the early 20th century. It includes a wide assortment of items that were collected by travelers or created by artists to encourage travel to famous destinations. The collection is especially notable for its souvenir prints, such as keidaizu and onsenzu, various types of practical maps, such as route maps and transit maps for pilgrims, as well as religious ephemera, such as butsuhanga, mandara, and sangoku denrai. Housed at East Asia Library


Gaihozu: Japanese imperial maps

Purutō heiyō chishi shiryōzu = プル島兵要地誌資料圖 / Japan. Rikugun. Sanbō Honbu, 1944

Stanford University Libraries holds a large collection of Japanese military and imperial maps, referred to as gaihozu, or "maps of outer lands." These maps were produced starting in the early Meiji (1868-1912) era and the end of World War II by the Land Survey Department of the General Staff Headquarters, the former Japanese Army.  The first charge was to map specific territories beyond Japan's borders.  Over time the mapping efforts grew to including "mapping of interimperial boundaries, cadastral surveys of the colonies, and detailed drawings of strategic cities and fortifications."  Geographically, the Stanford maps cover a broad area including Japan, China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, the Philippines, and beyond.


The Glen McLaughlin Map Collection of California as an Island 

Chikyo zenzu = Western Hemisphere / [Kokan, 1793]

A collection of nearly 750 maps obtained by Mr. McLaughlin over nearly 40 years. Included in the collection are hemisphere and world maps, celestial charts, title pages, globe gores and a medal. The dates range from 1622 to the mid-1800's., Images from the Glen McLaughlin Collection of California as an Island maps, a collection of nearly 750 maps obtained by Mr. McLaughlin over nearly 40 years. Included in the collection are hemisphere and world maps, celestial charts, title pages, globe gores and a medal. The dates range from 1622 to the mid-1800s. Collection includes Japanese maps, such as the one pictured above.

Georeferenced maps of Japan


Heat Flow, Japan, 1964-2002 / International Heat Flow Commission, 2002

How to search

To locate Japanese maps in SearchWorks you can perform either a simple keyword search or create an advanced query to refine your results.

1. Facet according to "Map" under Resource type


2. Enter keyword in search box, such as "Japan"


3. Specify search by desired criteria, such as Library


4. You can also sort your results according to date, author, or title


5. Within a record for a specific item, you can click subject strings to find similar works


6. For instance, "Japan > Maps > 19th century" will bring up a precise selection


7. You can also start with an advanced search and fill in your terms at the outset


8. For example, "earthquakes" as subject, "Japan" as place, "Map" as resource 


9. Here is a sample of a Japanese map related to earthquakes


Koro wa Ansei ni udoshi sangatsu : kawaraban = 頃ハ安政二卯年三月 : かわらばん, 1855


Further reading

Cartography in the traditional east and southeast asian societies  / edited by J. B. Harley and David Woodward, Chicago: 1994

Chapter 2: Introduction to East Asian Cartography / by Nathan Sivin and Gari Ledyard

Chapter 11: Cartography in Japan / by Kazutaka Unno


Cartographic Japan : a history in maps / edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas, Chicago: 2016

Maps in Japan from the time they were exclusive to the elite, to the cartographic explosion in popular culture


The world in Japanese maps until the mid-19th century / Oda Takeo, Muroga Nobuo, Unno Kazutaka chosha, Tokyo: 1975

Collection of Japanese world maps, including early works


Isles of Gold : antique maps of Japan / by Hugh Cortazzi, New York: 1983

Japanese cartography, including the years of isolation during the Edo Period, 1603-1868


Geographical studies & Japan / edited by John Sargent & Richard Wiltshire, Sandgate: 1993

Theoretical, historical, physical, economic, urban, and regional geographic studies in Japan


Geography in Japan / edited by Roland J. Fuchs and John M. Street, Honolulu: 1973

History of Japanese geographical studies, including physical and human geography

Follow us on Instagram