Mapping Social Hierarchies onto the City of Edo

It is possible to understand something of a map’s intended socio-political purpose by analyzing its physical construction and the ideological messages it contains within the appropriate historical context. Take for example the map Bansei on Edo ezu (“Illustrated Layout of Edo”; Edo is today known as Tokyo). On a physical level, this map has some interesting features. For starters, the individual sheets have been mounted to reinforce the strength of the fraying rice paper. Furthermore, this particular map ~ published by Yamashiroya Masakichi and Fujiya Kichizo in 1854 (Rumsey nd) ~ seems to have been created in a style influenced by the legacy of rangaku (Dutch studies) that pervaded all levels of Japanese arts and sciences, including cartography (Unno 1994, 347), before the sakoku (isolation) policies of the Tokugawa government took effect in the seventeenth century (Campbell and Noble 1993, 1697 and 1062-63). This convergence of traditional Japanese printmaking arts and Dutch cartographic conventions regarding surveying techniques was refined and promoted by Ino Tadataka (1745-1818). Also, the individual woodcut prints that comprise this map are done in the style of the hand carved prints of the Edo Period (1600 - 1868) (Campbell and Noble 1993, 608 and 317; Stewart 1979, 10).

On an ideological level the major features depicted at the center are of particular interest. Here we can see the mon (clan symbol) of the ruling Tokugawa government. We also find two kanji (Japanese ideograms) that read “oshiro” (castle) and “nishinomaru” (Western circle/quarters). These refer to the now demolished ruins of Edo-jo, which featured a grand keep alongside several quarters for Tokugawa family members and ministry officials, including the western quarters of the heir apparent. Extending beyond the central living quarters, we find an outer layer of mansions and residencies known collectively as the daimyo-koji (warlord ally). Here, the Tokugawa fudai-daimyo (close vassals) were housed, denoted by the extensive use of additional mon of various sizes (Campbell and Noble 1993, 315 and 265).

This map holds particular historical significance within the larger framework of the later half of the Edo Period. As Japanese society became engulfed in the tension between traditional feudal authority and the burgeoning westernization movement ~ a period known as the Bakumatsu era ~ this map would have reminded the average Japanese citizen of the more than two centuries of Tokugawa control over the nation. This is particularly apparent in the way that almost all sectors on the map that do not refer directly to religious or public spaces are denoted by additional mon and kanji, suggesting that the government was concerned with knowing who was located within the city, and what their spatial and power relationships were in reference to the Tokugawa shogun. Even the layout of the city suggests a convergence on the central government as all of the districts are constructed to be facing the castle. The use of the four kanji denoting the cardinal directions on the fringes of the printed surface reinforce the idea that the Tokugawa were the center of the political world for the average Japanese citizen living within this eastern metropolis. Thus all of the pieces, working in concert, emerge as a graphical representation of the grand political vision of Tokugawa power and the city of Edo ~ an ideology critical to the finals days of the feudal system before the establishment of a western-style constitutional monarchy proclaimed by Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) (Campbell and Knox 1993, 322 and 945).

Further Reading (online):

Rumsey, David. nd. “Bansei on Edo ezu.” Online reproduction and catalog data, accessed 30 September 2013.

Further Reading (print):

Campbell, Alan, and David S. Noble, eds. 1993. Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.

Stewart, Basil. 1979. A Guide to Japanese Prints and Their Subject Matter. New York: Dover Publications.

Unno, Kazutaka. 1994. “Cartography in Japan.” In Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies, ed. J. B. Harley and David Woodward, 346-477. Vol. 2.2 of The History of Cartography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Philip Rotolo (BA History; USM 2014)

December 2013

Prepared for GEO 207, “Map History”