This selection of Japanese views comes from the Travel Through Time: Japan collection, belonging to Stanford’s East Asia Library. The collection spans time between the 17th and the early 20th century and is especially notable for 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. They were created by artists and mapmakers to encourage travel to famous destinations in Japan, including Buddhist temples and hot springs.
The views shown here highlight both similarities and differences between eastern and western cartography. These works all take the form of bird’s-eye view, an oblique aerial view shared across the east and west. The Japanese views diverge in geospatial representation when they integrate multiple perspectives on a single picture plane. Note that the items in all four corners of this installation each contain simultaneous viewpoints, with trees, mountain peaks and buildings pointing in all four directions at once, sometimes creating the holistic impression of a spiraling landscape. Again in common with western maps, the Japanese views embrace thematic representations of the natural world by compiling phenomena across different locations into a single work, such as the waterfalls shown in Nikkō ryōsha meisho zenzu. Despite the cultural distinctions between east and west, this commonality indicates a universal tenet of mapmaking - to understand the world we live in through its description.
In keeping with all maps, these Japanese views capture spatial environments during certain periods. In Tsuruokaryō Mamachimura Ōyamaryō Shimokawamura onhayashisakai shōezu, dated around 1699, the scene is largely a natural one and the artist has represented a landscape with a few scattered human elements largely dominated by high mountains. In contrast, most of the views here exhibit a greater integration of the built and natural environments, as they depict constructed tourist attractions, such as sites of religious worship, as well as pools made possible by natural hot springs but stewarded by man. On the other extreme, Jōshū Kusatsu Onsen shinkeizu shows a mostly man-made environment in which the buildings, roads and electrical wires overtake the natural area, which remains as just a few spots of greenery throughout. Still, in reverence for nature, this view dedicates an inset to the depiction of a waterfall. Like their western counterparts, these Japanese views portray the foundation of all maps - to visualize the geospatial human experience and preserve slices of time for our collective historical record.
This manuscript bird’s-eye view depicts a fleet of United States Navy ships, led by Matthew Perry, arriving off the coast of Uraga in Kanagawa-ken, Japan, in 1853. It is oriented with north to the lower left. Multiple perspectives appear on the same picture plane, as shown by buildings and trees pointing in different directions.
This black and white copperplate bird’s-eye view depicts the Koganeyama Jinja Shinto shrine in Oshika-chō, Japan, in an environment dominated by the natural: an island of one stylized central mountain with many foothill peaks, surrounded by water all around its base and snakey clouds at its summit. The margins contain inset views of both natural and built environments, including other shrines.
This black and white copperplate bird’s-eye view combines the natural and built environment in depicting the Nakanotake Jinja Buddhist temple new in Gunma-ken, Japan, within a mountainous landscape. Throughout the hills behind the temple, every peak, crag and rock is labeled. The inset shows a waterfall.
This black and white bird’s-eye view features a small and scattered community within a larger natural environment in Atsumi-machi, Japan. It depicts a topsy-turvy interpretation of space, in which the perspective twists around the entire picture plane, showing mountain peaks pointing in all directions. It is oriented with east toward the lower left.
This colored manuscript view focuses on the natural environment in depicting one slice of a mountain range in Tsuruoka-shi, Japan, along with a road to the summit, portrayed with whimsical minimalism and a reduced palette of blue and green. Note that this copy is missing half the original sheet.
This copperplate bird’s-eye view combines and natural and built environment in depicting the Nikkō Tōshōgū Shinto shrine in Nikkō, Japan, surrounded by thickets of trees. The view presents an elegant palette of forest green, subdued turquoise, and gold leaf. Other editions from later dates adopt bright reds. All versions depict tourist attractions in insets, including waterfalls. Such comparative display is reminiscent of western thematic maps that show mountains and rivers from different locations together to compare heights and lengths.
This colored lithograph bird’s-eye view combines the natural and built environment in depicting a hot spring in Kusatsu-machi, Japan, with trees and mountains throughout. It shows other tourist attractions in the insets, such as Shirane Jinja, Shiranesan funkakō, Shishiiwa, Mononugu no numa and Ōsenbaku. It also includes a guide, distance chart, and lists the health benefits of the Kusatsu Onsen hot spring.
This hand-painted bird’s-eye view with a minimal palette of muted blues and browns combines the natural and built environment in depicting a hot spring in Kusatsu-machi, Japan, with mountains on the horizon. It features other tourist attractions and includes a distance chart in the inset.
This colored woodblock bird’s-eye view combines the natural and built environment in depicting the Nikkō Tōshōgū Shinto shrine in Tochigi-ken, Japan, with forest throughout and mountains in the horizon lines at both top and bottom. Multiple perspectives appear on the same picture plane, as shown by trees and mountains pointing toward both up and down.
This woodblock bird’s-eye view combines the natural and built environment in depicting the Zenkōji Buddhist temple in Nagano-shi, Japan, with trees throughout and a mountain range on the horizon. The fantastical palette utilizes orangish-red to show walking paths and hot pink to feature rooftops and cherry blossoms.
This black and white lithograph bird’s-eye view - featuring only the color red, representing roads - combines the natural and built environment in depicting the Enryakuji Buddhist temple in Ōtsu-shi, Japan, with the Hiei Mountain on the horizon. It includes a description of Enryakuji's foundational history and distance charts.
This colored woodblock bird’s-eye view depicts the natural environment of a hilly landscape, including its water drainage, in Suwa-gun, Japan. It includes a legend and is oriented with north toward the top left. Multiple perspectives appear on the same picture plane, as shown by peaks pointing in all different directions, giving the appearance overall of a spiral formation.