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A map of Japan currently stored at Kanazawa Bunko depicts Japan and surrounding countries, both real and imaginary. The date of creation is unknown but probably during the Kamakura period. It is one of the oldest surviving Gyōki-type maps of Japan. It reveals Japan's self-image and the understanding of neighboring countries after the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281

Shōmyōji, at Kanazawa-ku Yokohama Japan.

It is 34.2 cm by 51.8 cm. Only the western half of the map is extant. It is likely that the map was originally in possession of the medieval Kanazawa Bunko, which had been founded by the Hōjō clan, the de facto ruler of the Kamakura shogunate. After the downfall of the Kamakura shogunate, the holdings of Kanazawa Bunko were stored at the neighboring temple of Shōmyōji, which had also been established by the Hōjō clan. After the modern Kanazawa Bunko was re-established by Kanagawa Prefecture in 1930, the map among others were relocated.[1] It was designated as an important cultural property in 1987.[2]


Contents and analysisEdit


At the center Japan is illustrated as the shape of a one-pointed vajra, which symbolizes Japan's sacredness. A distinct feature of the map is that Japan is surrounded by the body of a serpent-like creature, which scholars identify as a dragon. The dragon seems to shield Japan from foreign enemies. Provinces of Oki and Tsushima are somehow put outside of the dragon.[1]

Each province is labeled with its name, grade and the size of rice fields. The last field is rarely presented on other Gyōki-type maps. Also, the map lacks inter-provincial highways that are typical of Gyōki-type maps.[1]

Scholars draw attention to the inclusion of small islands in northern Kyūshū, namely, Shikanoshima (シカノ島) and Takeshima (竹嶋). They were notable battlefields during the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. For this reason, the map is considered to have created after the Mongol invasions of Japan.[1]

South: RaksasasEdit

The label on the land mass in the south reads: "Country of Raksasas: inhabited by women; people who visit never return" (羅刹國 女人萃来人不還). This imaginary entity has fascinated scholars. The textual references to the Raksasas or man-eating female demons can be found in the Konjaku Monogatarishū (12th century) and the Uji Shūi Monogatari (early 13th century) and can be traced back to the Chinese Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (646). These documents locate the country of Raksasas or Sōkara (Simhala) in the southern sea (of India). It is not clear why it was placed to the south of Japan, not India.[1]

Southwest: Ryūkyū and AmamiEdit

In the southwestern corner, the label on the land mass reads: "Ushima, Country of Ryūkyū: a human body and a bird head; Amami Island: a privately-owned district" (龍及國宇嶋身人頭鳥 雨見嶋私領郡). The latter half has been associated with the Kamakura shogunate's control of the southern borderland of Japan. Chikama Tokiie, who ruled a portion of Satsuma Province in southern Kyūshū, created a set of documents of inheritance in 1306. The properties to be inherited by Chikama Tokiie's family members included Kikai Island, Amami Ōshima and Tokunoshima (and probably Okinoerabu) of the Amami Islands. Scholars argue that since the Chikama clan was a retainer of the Hōjō clan, its control over the Amami Islands was known to the creator of the map, an affiliate of the Hōjō clan.[3]

For the first half of the statement, Ushima (宇嶋) seems a transcription of Ōshima (大嶋) or "Great Island" as Standard Japanese Ō is realized as Ufu or Huu in southern dialects. Accordingly, Ushima may correspond to Okinawa Island. Ryūkyū as a land of demon-like people might reflect the traditional perception of Ryūkyū as a land of cannibals.[4] Geographer Yoshinari and mythologist Fuku argue that a "bird head" might indicate a feather headdress worn by an Okinawan shaman.[5]

West: ChinaEdit

China (唐土) is placed to the west of Japan. It is said to have consisted of 366 provinces. Even though the Chinese Song Dynasty was conquered by the Mongol Empire in 1279, China is treated as a separate entity. This may help dating the map, or its source.[1]

Northwest: Mongol EmpireEdit

A somewhat enigmatic label is attached to the northwestern land mass: "高麗ヨリ蒙古國之自日平トヨ國云唐土ヨリハ多々國々 一称八百國." Comparing this with other documents, scholars present the following interpretation: by Goryeo, [it is] called "Mongol State," "Toi State" by Japan and "Tatar State" by China, [and it consists of] 1,800 provinces. The Toi were Jurchen pirates who raided the coasts of Japan in the early 11th century, but were confused with the Mongols. The rare reference to the Mongol Empire on Japanese maps reflects the impact of the Mongol invasions.[1] No label is attached to the land mass east of the Mongol Empire.

North: Gandō and SillaEdit

The northern land mass has two set of labels. The first one is Gandō (geese route) and reads "there are castles but no people" (雖有城非人). This imaginary entity has puzzled scholars. The name of Gandō can only be found on medieval Gyōki-style maps. Some hypothesize that Gandō is parallel with Yanmeng (geese gate), the northern border of China. Yanmeng was well known in Japan through Chinese classics and would become the source of the imaginary entity in Japan's northern frontier.[1]

The next label shows Silla of Korea even though it was replaced by Goryeo in 935. In medieval Japanese narratives, Silla was associated with Empress Jingū's conquest of the three Koreas. Thus Silla was seen as a foreign enemy to subjugate with the help of the divine power. The reference to Silla must be triggered by the contemporary threat of the Mongols.[1]

Relations to other mapsEdit

The map is often compared with a map of Japan stored at Ninnaji (1305), another oldest surviving Gyōki-type map (hereafter Ninnaji map). A notable difference is that the Ninnaji map lacks Raksasas and Gandō. They probably belong to different lines of cartographic tradition.[1]

A sister map of Japan (hereafter Myōhonji map) was introduced to academic circles in 2001. It was stored at Myōhonji, a temple of the Nichiren Shōshū sect in Chiba Prefecture. It is accompanied by some documents, which enabled better understanding of Myōhonji map and the map concerned.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kuroda Hideo 黒田日出男, Ryū no sumu Nihon 龍の棲む日本, 2003.
  2. ^ The Agency for Cultural Affairs. "Kokuhō, jūyō bunkazai (bijutsuhin): Nihon-zu (Tōtōmi, Echigo itō ketsu)". Retrieved February 1, 2012.
  3. ^ Takanashi Osamu 高梨修, Rettō nan'en ni okeru kyōkai ryōiki no yōsō 列島南縁における境界領域の様相, Kodai makki Nihon no kyōkai 古代末期・日本の境界, pp. 85–130, 2010
  4. ^ Tanaka Fumio 田中史生, Kodai no Amami Okinawa shotō to kokusai shakai 古代の奄美・沖縄諸島と国際社会, Ikeda Yoshifumi ed., Kodai chūsei no kyōkai ryōiki 古代中世の境界領域, pp. 49–70, 2008.
  5. ^ Yoshinari Naoki 吉成直樹, Fuku Hiromi 福寛美, Ryūkyū ōkoku tanjō 琉球王国誕生, 2007.