Travel Through Time: Japan

Travel Through Time: Japan gives a sample of the travel-related ephemera collected by the East Asia Library at Stanford. Spanning the Edo through Taisho periods, the collection documents a period of much change.

At the core of the collection are precinct prints 境内図, a genre of prints depicting the environs of a temple or shrine produced for pilgrims. They are rich in information about perceptions of space, intriguing in their depictions of places and people, and invaluable for scholars of material history, religious history, the history of printing and travel. Yet, perhaps because they do not conform to definitions of maps or art, per se, precinct prints have not been widely collected by museums or libraries.

Precinct prints were born from a tradition of depicting temple environs as the cosmic realm along the lines of mandalas. During the Edo period (1600-1868) woodblock precinct prints became widely available to visitors to temples, shrines and onsen hot springs. They present the place from a bird’s eye view, labeling buildings and important objects. With the introduction of copperplate printing and lithographic methods, the level of detail increases dramatically, with each rock, field, gate, stupa, and building identified. The monochrome woodblock prints of the early Edo period are, with time, joined by bright, colorful prints.

Kanpeisha Kamado Jinja chikei
Rikuzen no Kuni Kinkazan shukuzu
Jōshū Kusatsu Onsen shinkeizu = : Hot spring Kusatsu Jyoshu
Nikkō ryōsha meisho zenzu = : Whole Nikko Riosha
Nihon sankei no hitotsu Itsukushima jitchi shinkei no zu

Other ephemera that travelers brought back from their travels included talismans, engi (miraculous origin stories), and sangoku densai (histories of Buddhism emergence in India and spread through China to Japan).

In addition to precinct prints of travel destinations, the collection includes these other types of travel ephemera. These materials are understudied, but valuable for the study of popular religious practices.

Iwashiro Yanaizu Enzōji
Kitaunonuma-gun Yoshidadō
Echigo Oppōji
Uka no Mitama no Kami

In the Meiji period and beyond, travelers continued to collect precinct prints, but they also brought home other types of souvenirs. Destinations for travel expanded to include public parks, fair grounds, newly built buildings. In many of the later prints, perspective shifts from the bird's eye view to front-on eye-level perspective and people in fashionable cloths take a more prominent place.

It is often said that with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 that Japan pushed to “modernize.” The changes in society that accompanied the opening to the West can be seen vividly in this collection. Prominently displayed are trains, planes, automobiles, electrical wires, and new clothing fashions.

Taishō sannen sangatsu hatsuka kaijō Tōkyō Taishō Hakurankai nai Daiichi Kaijōnai Ryōunbashi fukin no kōkei
Ueno Kōen Saigō-ō dōzō oyobi Kiyomizudō no shinkei : Tōkyō meisho
Shinchiku no Asakusa Kōen Nakamise no bikan : Tōkyō meisho

Nevertheless, the prints in this collection complicate a simplistic narrative of movement from traditional to modern. In many cases, traditional names for places persist as do modes for depicting space. A complex story of embrace and rejection is found in a close examination of the later materials from this collection.

Explore this collection through the browse categories: Shrine Precincts, Onsen Precincts, Temple Precincts, Talismans and other religious ephemera, Changing Views and Shifting Perspectives and All Exhibit Items. Or, use the search feature to find materials related to a topic of interest, using key words, such as "Nikko," "Kusaka," "bridges" or "parks." Limit your search to "maps" and choose "map view" to see their distribution throughout Japan. Or, simply browse through "All Exhibit Items" to enjoy the whole collection of digitized materials!