A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600-1912

A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600-1912

by Kären Wigen

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Kären Wigen probes regional cartography, choerography, and statecraft to redefine restoration (ishin) in modern Japanese history. As developed here, that term designates not the quick coup d’état of 1868 but a three-centuries-long project of rehabilitating an ancient map for modern purposes. Drawing on a wide range of geographical documents from Shinano (present-day Nagano Prefecture), Wigen argues that both the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600–1868) and the reformers of the Meiji era (1868–1912) recruited the classical map to serve the cause of administrative reform. Nor were they alone; provincial men of letters played an equally critical role in bringing imperial geography back to life in the countryside. To substantiate these claims, Wigen traces the continuing career of the classical court’s most important unit of governance—the province—in central Honshu.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520272767
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 04/23/2012
Series: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes , #17
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 340
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Kären Wigen is Professor of History at Stanford University. She is the author of The Making of a Japanese Periphery and co-author of The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography, both from UC Press.

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A Malleable Map

Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600â?"1912

By Kären Wigen


Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94580-7


Shinano in the Nation

THE CORPUS OF NATIONAL MAPS (identified in Japanese as Nihon sozu or Nihon zenzu) published before the Meiji era is large and varied. Within that corpus, it is possible to discern three fundamentally different paradigms: a view from the west, a view from the east, and a view from the road. The oldest cartographic model was centered on Yamashiro Province, the region of the imperial capital. To a court residing near the shores of the Inland Sea, Shinshu was a strategic gateway to the eastern marches, a military frontier that was not fully subdued until the eleventh century. This chapter begins by recounting the court's relationship with the province during its heyday. That relationship would fray badly during the succeeding centuries, which ended in a decisive shift of power to the east. Yet the Kyoto-centric paradigm proved resilient, resurging in various cartographic forms throughout the Tokugawa period. As a result, a geography of Shinano that had developed in classical times remained in public view well into the nineteenth century.

Long before that, however, a second conception of Japanese national space began to be articulated, one in which all roads led not to Kyoto but to Edo, the shogun's headquarters at the edge of the Kanto Plain. On maps compiled by the Tokugawa shogunate, the military capital in the east overshadowed the imperial complex in the west, emerging as the chief node of an expanded and reconfigured national network. This had important implications for how Shinano was mapped. What had been a forbidding fastness was transformed into a central throughway, serving Edo as a strategic corridor not to the east but to the west and north. That vision was most clearly articulated in maps compiled by the shogunate during the eighteenth century. But the explosive growth of the Kanto, the rapid development of the Japan Sea region, and the flourishing commerce between the two ensured that this view of Shinano infiltrated Tokugawa commercial maps of the nation as well.

Finally, a third treatment of Shinano arose in maps for travelers. Colorful, plentiful, and sometimes playful, this genre—broadly called itinerary maps (dochuzu)—comprises an essential corpus for scholars interested in the culture of premodern travel. The most fanciful itineraries took the form of mandalas and panoramas. Marketed chiefly as souvenirs, these aesthetically innovative forms have drawn considerable attention from cultural historians. In the case of more utilitarian maps—those meant to be carried and consulted on the road—analysts have focused on the practical travel information they provided: the layout of key routes, the location of barriers (where travelers would be stopped and examined), the distances between post stations (where food and lodging could be found). Much less noticed is how either kind of itinerary map portrayed the Japanese provinces. And no wonder. As we will see, marking out a region like Shinano on a byzantine route map or a borderless panorama is a laborious procedure, and one that goes against the grain of this route-centered material. But the effort is richly rewarded. For one thing, delineating an individual province illuminates how freely these topological maps reordered national space. For another, it yields a definitive inventory of destinations with which a place like Shinshu had come to be identified. Finally, it shows how commercial maps synthesized Kyoto- and Edo-centric views even while superimposing on both the priorities of the traveling public. Harmonizing the cartographic visions produced from these rival seats of power, published maps for travelers presented Japan as a bicentric network, one with more or less equally prominent metropolitan clusters in the west and in the east.

Looking at the corpus of national maps as a whole from the perspective of Shinano highlights the plurality of Japan's cartographic cultures during the Tokugawa era. In the genre of the all-Japan map, no single perspective won out; on the eve of the Meiji revolution, artifacts portraying the kuni as seen from Kyoto, from Edo, and from the road circulated simultaneously. The result was a multiplicity of visions, a pastiche of alternative mappings of Shinano's place in the nation of Nihon that coexisted without convergaing. Since those visions arose sequentially, we will revisit each in the order of its appearance, starting with the view from the capital.


The sixty-six Japanese provinces originally appeared on the map as locations in amonarch-centered geography. Starting in the seventh century, the Japanese archipelago was organized as a set of circuits (do) through which governors were sent out from the capital and tribute was sent back to the court. It was along the steepest andmost rugged of those circuits, the Eastern-Mountain Road or Tosando (pronounced "Azuma-yama-no-michi" in ancient times), that Shinano found its first location in national space.

Viewed from the seat of princely power—that is, from the temperate lowlands fronting the Inland Sea—the highland region known as Shinano appeared as a dark, cold, and forbidding place, the last barrier between the five home provinces (Gokinai) and a troublesome military frontier. Writing, statecraft, Buddhism, pottery, rice, silk, and other accoutrements of refined living had entered the archipelago from the west; the east, by contrast, was a primitive place. During the Nara (710–784) and Heian (794–1185) periods, Shinano served as both backwoods and bulwark to the Yamato court. An administrative outpost (kokufu) was established in the eastern part of the province, straddling the Eastern Mountain Road and presiding over the extensive imperial pasturelands (maki) along the grass-covered flanks of the region's volcanoes. Scores of local products were shipped to the capital as tribute, including hempen cloth, sulfur, birch bark, animal hides, and azusa wood, much prized for the making of bows. Still, Shinano lay in the east, and in early Japan, "east" was synonymous with "primitive." Even its landscape was barbaric. Reachable only after an arduous journey on foot or horseback through twisting passages over steep ravines, it was valued principally as a breeding ground for horses.

All of this influenced the way Shinano was mapped. The earliest surviving representations of the provinces, which date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, are highly schematic diagrams known as Gyoki-zu, or "Gyoki-style maps," after the monk who is credited with pioneering the genre. The message of these hieroglyphs has been succinctly stated: "Japan is a coherent whole centered on the authority of a universal monarch and administered through provincial units." Such a message did not require geographical precision. Indeed, the simplest Gyoki-zu reduced the kuni to mere characters positioned along the eight roads that radiated out from the capital district (Map 4; compare Figure 1). Later variants added crude outlines around these toponyms, turning the naked diagram into a more recognizable map of the imperial tribute system. Nonetheless, the boundaries remained impressionistic, to say the least. Eighteen Gyoki-zu from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries survive today; a typical example is reproduced in Map 5 (compare Figure 2). A detail from another famous Gyoki-style image, the "Map of Great Japan" (Dai Nihon koku no zu) of 1548, is shown in Plate 1.

As schematic as they are, these early diagrams concisely convey how Shinano was seen by the court. Relative to chuto, or the center of the imperium—a designation prominently marked in large characters above Yamashiro Province on Map 4 (see also Figure 1)—Shinano lies to the right, along one of three roads that ran eastward from the capital. Those three routes had been well established since the ancient period: the Tokaido, or Eastern Sea Road, along the Pacific coast; the Hokurikudo, or North Coast Road, along the Japan Sea; and the Tosando, or Eastern Mountain Road, in between. To reach Shinano from the capital, a traveler would take the Tosando through the provinces of Omi and Mino. Beyond Shinano, the inland route continued through four more provinces: Kozuke and Shimotsuke in the Kanto Plain, and finally Mutsu and Dewa in northern Honshu, the farthest reaches of the early Japanese state.

Close examination of the surviving Gyoki-zu reveals minor discrepancies in the depiction of the Eastern Mountain Road from one map to another. One model depicts the Tosando as passing through the province of Hida en route to Shinano; a second shows the Tosando splitting briefly into a northerly route, through Hida, and a southerly route, leading directly from Mino into Shinano (where the two rejoin);12 and a third model depicts Hida as lying off to the side of the Tosando altogether, on a branch road of its own. Of these three, the last captures the spatial contours of the ancient road network most accurately. But whatever their differences, all three models position Shinano as the throughway to a military frontier that would vex the court for centuries.

Underscoring their Kyoto-centered world-view, Gyoki-style maps often include distance information in the form of travel time to and from the capital. Two separate figures are typically given for each province. The first stipulates the number of days required to travel up to the capital (nobori); the second, the number of days that it would take to travel in the opposite direction (kudari). Formost provinces, the trip "up" is estimated to take twice as long as the trip "down"; Shinano is typical, with figures of twenty-one days and ten days, respectively. Since in this context "up" and "down" refer to symbolic relationships rather than elevation, the difference can be attributed to the tribute burdens with which those traveling toward the capital were encumbered.

On the 1548 Dai Nihon koku no zu (Plate 1), the balloon like outlines around each kuni serve an additional design function: in addition to suggesting each province's general shape and size, they accommodate associated text. Looking closely at the entry for Shinano, we find the following information: the number of districts in the province (ten), the name of the road that links it to the capital (the Tosando), the number of days required to carry tribute up to Kyoto (twenty-two), and the number of days required for a trip down from Kyoto to the province (ten). This is followed by two further notations: omaki and Kiso no kakehashi. The former highlights the presence of sixteen imperial pasturelands in Shinano, which together offered eighty horses per annumin tribute. The latter indexes a famous stretch of the Tosando where this mountain road protruded on a ledge over theKiso canyon. Only a handful of provinces on this map are graced with such notations.

Taken together, these early images convey three essential geographical messages about Shinano as viewed from Kyoto. First, they make it clear that the province was part of Japan's east. Yamashiro, the capital district and therefore the symbolic center of the nation, was consistently portrayed on these maps as its geographic center as well; Shinano was always positioned off-center, in the Eastern Mountain circuit. Second, the travel times given mark Shinano as remote—as far from the capital, effectively, as the southernmost island of Kyushu. Finally, these maps position Shinano as a buffer between the Yamato court and its most active military frontier. This is brought home particularly in the Dai Nihon koku no zu of 1548 (Plate 1), in which the province's elongation along an east-west axis—as well as the reminder of its horse pastures (which served a vital military role)—underscore its guard-post function.

The conventions established during the centuries before 1600 would persist on Japanese maps for hundreds of years. This was no doubt in part a product of Kyoto's preeminence in publishing through the first century of Tokugawa rule, when important precedents and prototypes were established for commercial maps. Partly, too, it reflected the continuing role of the imperial court as the symbolic center of the Japanese nation. But whatever the reasons, the conceit of Kyoto as the focal point of the country was powerfully reinforced on a wide variety of Edo-era maps long after Kyoto had lost its political centrality and long after the Tosando had fallen into disuse.

Two examples may suffice to suggest how classical models continued to be conjured during the Tokugawa era, perpetuating a "subliminal geometry" that positioned Shinano as an eastern outlier. One is a diagram of the provinces from 1690 (Map 6), the other a Gyoki-style map from 1666 entitled "Map of the Land of the Rising Sun" (Fusokoku no zu) (Plate 2). The 1690 diagram, which was designed to convey information about climatic variation in the archipelago, is clearly modeled on the early network schema just discussed (compare Map 4). As on those medieval maps, individual kuni are mere names in a network, connected by the circuits of the classical era. Each province has been color-coded to represent its overall climate: cold places are shown as black, warm places as white. (Needless to say, Shinano is coded as a cold province.) Kyoto-centricity takes a literal form here; the old capital district of Yamashiro is not only centrally placed but also set off with a unique symbol (a double circle), while the Kanto provinces are shown as a distant hinterland, way out in the right-hand margin of the map.

In the Fusokoku no zu (Plate 2), the old conventions are equally apparent, albeit in a different idiom. Here, too, Yamashiro is positioned precisely in the middle of the nation, Edo is a distant outlier, and the road system shown is the old Kyoto-centric one. The resulting image shows Shinano as in the old paradigm, elongated west to east along a phantom Tosando axis. In this antiquated image, Shinano remains a gateway to the east. Similar maps continued to be published throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries, although most eventually dropped the ancient road network. In this abridged form, representing the kuni in outline without their ancient links, Gyoki-style maps continued to assert Kyoto's centrality for another two centuries. Whether on data-packed woodblock prints (Map 7), stylized ceramics (Map 8), or colorful rebuses (Plate 3), the view from Kyoto was kept firmly in the public eye throughout the Edo period.

Yet that view did not go uncontested. From the earliest years of Tokugawa rule a contrasting vision began to circulate, one in which Shinano was conceptually relocated from the periphery to the heartland of an enlarged and reconfigured realm. Edo, the administrative center of that realm after 1600, had a special historical relationship to Shinano rooted in the military campaigns and pacification strategies of the first Tokugawa shogun. Because that violent past pervaded early modern maps of Shinano in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it is worth revisiting the oft-told tale of Tokugawa ascendancy from the eccentric perspective of the Edo-Shinano axis as a way of orienting readers to this second cartographic paradigm.


By the time Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to the post of Seii Taishogun ("barbarian-subduing generalissimo") in 1603, Kyoto's hold on Shinano had been loosening for half a millennium. Already in the eleventh century, connections with the central treasury had weakened as private estates proliferated; by the end of the twelfth, even the aristocrats who were the nominal guarantors of the estates would find themselves unable to collect more than token rents from their armed managers in the countryside. As local strongmen across the archipelago aligned themselves with rising clans in the Kanto Plain, Shinano's primary axis began to pivot eastward. Its expansive horse—breeding grounds made the highlands a critical arena for the Kamakura shogunate (1185–1333), the first warrior regime to govern from the military frontier. Boosted by Kamakura, one local clan, the Ogasawara, gradually emerged as the most powerful warlords in Shinano, achieving a preeminence they would retain for more than a century. When the Ogasawara split over a succession dispute in 1440, the region—along with the country—descended into civil war.

That war was still under way when Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) came of age. As a warlord raised along Honshu's Tokai coast (the stretch of Pacific shoreline directly east of Kyoto), Ieyasu had grown up with Shinano at his back. The future shogun was born in the coastal province of Mikawa, where his father had been installed in the castle town of Okazaki (Map 9).Okazaki controlled an important trade corridor to central Shinano, one that ran from the salt-producing coast all the way to Lake Suwa and the Matsumoto basin. Moreover, the family castle overlooked a crucial junction in the regional transport network: the point at which packhorse goods from Shinshu were transferred to river barges for shipment to the Ise Bay and beyond. A clearer lesson in the strategic importance of Japan's interior could hardly be imagined.


Excerpted from A Malleable Map by Kären Wigen. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Conventions Followed in the Text


Part One. A Province Defined

1. Shinano in the Nation
2. Shinano Up Close
3. Shinano in the World

Part Two. A Province Restored

4. The Poetry of Statistics
5. Pedagogies of Place
6. A Pan-Provincial Press




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