FUKUYAMA, Hiroshima -- The Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History said on June 15 it has confirmed that a map of Japan it received from a collector is one of the oldest of the country, apparently dating back to the mid-14th century.
The early Muromachi period map, which covers regions from today's Honshu main island through Kyushu in western Japan, "contains transitional elements during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods and is significant in tracing changes to Japanese maps," said a representative of the museum.
It was previously believed that a map in the "Shugaisho" encyclopedia from 1548 was the oldest known map covering the whole of Japan. While Ninna-ji temple in Kyoto also holds a map of Japan dating to 1305, it does not cover the western part of the country.
The recently confirmed map, titled "Nihon fuso koku no zu," measures 122 centimeters by 57 centimeters. Fuso is another name for Japan in ancient times. The map centers around Yamashiro-no-kuni (today's southern Kyoto Prefecture), with Kyushu located at the top and the Tohoku region at the bottom, and illustrates the then 68 provinces of Japan with their names and locations. Words referring to Ryukyu, the then name of Okinawa, are also seen near Kyushu.
The names of each province and county are written in the margin, along with their populations and the land areas of rice paddies and fields. The name of a Nara-period monk, Gyoki (668-749), is also seen. The way of depicting provinces in round shapes is said to have come from Gyoki, and the map is believed to be a type of "Gyoki-zu," a map of Japan that was replicated until the Edo period.
According to Minoru Kuge, chief curator at the museum, the map shares characteristics typical of the Kamakura period, such as referring to Okinawa as Ryukyu, and those of the Muromachi period, such as carrying many names of port towns. The museum estimated the period when the map was produced based on these features as well as the handwriting style and paper quality.
The map was a part of a collection of Hisashi Moriya, an old map collector originally from Fukuyama and now a resident of Tokyo. He entrusted the map to the museum. The map will be put on display at the facility from July 19 through Sept. 24.
(Japanese original by Hayato Matsui, Fukuyama Bureau)