Several years ago, I received an iPad and realizing that I wanted to use it for academic purposes began to scour the App Store for potentially useful apps. One app that I came across pertained to an interest of mine at the time, the Aizu domain, so without paying much attention I downloaded it. The app, Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō 会津古今旅帳, was one of the first apps focusing on historical maps that I had come across, and although the market is now crowded it is, in my opinion, still one of the best. In this post, I’ll explore some of the free apps available for viewing historical Japanese maps.
Map of Tsurugajō 鶴ケ城 from Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō
Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō 会津古今旅帳
Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō was created in 2014 and is available for iOS and Android. It appears to have been made using Leaflet, a process which our Social Media Manager, Deniz Çevik, has described here and here. Like all of the apps featured in this post, Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō allows users to view a historical map (in this case of Aizu Wakamatsu 会津若松) which is overlaid onto a modern one. However, unlike the other apps on this list, Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō, includes an extensive number of pinned markers indicating the locations of interesting historical sites and photographs. Selecting a pinned marker provides the user with historical information on the site, and if you allow the app access to your location, upon visiting the sites the modern day photographs will be replaced with those from the past. The app also includes encyclopedia-like sections (accessible through the menu) which provide details on the city’s historical sites and those related to the Boshin War (J. Boshin Sensō 戊辰戦争). Although Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō‘s extra features make it an interesting and useful piece for exploring the history of Aizu, it is unfortunate that the app does not allow the user a choice of historical maps.
A late 20th Century map in Kochizu Sanpo
Kochizu Sanpo 古地図散歩
Kochizu Sanpo 古地図散歩 which is available for both iOS and Android is particularly useful for those interested in modern (20th and 21st Century) Japanese history. Numerous historical maps and aerial photographs from across the 20th and early 21st Centuries can be overlaid on Google Maps or Google satellite images. Many of the maps cover the entirety of Japan, although the aerial photos tend only to cover major cities. Like many of the other maps in this list, the chosen historical map may be faded to different degrees so that both the historical and modern maps can be viewed in conjunction. This feature is lacking from the aforementioned Aizu Kokon Tabi Chō. The app includes advertisements which damages its aesthetic, but they are not particularly intrusive.
The image attached to a pinned marker in Ōedo Imamukashi Meguri
Edo Meiji Tōkyō Kasane Chizu 江戸明治東京重ね地図 and Ōedo Imamukashi Meguri 大江戸今昔めぐり
Edo Meiji Tōkyō Kasane Chizu 江戸明治東京重ね地図 (App Store and Google Play) and Ōedo Imamukashi Meguri 大江戸今昔めぐり (App Store and Google Play) are both highly similar and therefore I will treat them together. Each features a colorful historical map of Tokyo which can be faded toward or away from a modern Google Map. Kasane Chizu provides both an Edo period (1603-1868) and a Meiji period (1868-1912) map, has a search feature, and includes a very useful feature to view historical place names. Ōedo Imamukashi Meguri only features an Edo period map, but includes pinned markers for historically pertinent locations and walking guides for collecting temple and shrine stamps. The pinned markers link the user to Wikipedia pages or provide old images of the locations such as paintings. Ōedo Imamukashi Meguri also allows users to view the modern and historical maps in parallel (although it also contains the standard fading feature). Whilst both apps are undoubtedly useful and do not lack features, I have found that I tend to turn first and foremost to the other apps and sources. This may have something to do with the aesthetics of both apps, which with their bright colors feel less professional than some of the other apps included here in.
Image of a map from Kochizu Burari
Kochizu Burari こちずぶらり
Kochizu Burari こちずぶらり (available on iOS and Android) is a somewhat unique entry in this list since it includes not only numerous maps from around Japan, but also the world. It also appears to contain the oldest and widest selection of both national and local maps on this list and even has a map from the Heian period (794-1185). The maps are not overlaid onto a modern equivalent, although a modern map may be accessed at the push of a button. One of the app’s most useful features is that it allows the user to download map images. The app is not, however, without shortcomings. For example, the controls are rather sensitive so the maps seem to rotate and zoom with very little input from the user.
Image from Maplat
Whilst not a mobile application, the historical map viewer, Maplat, is the king when it comes to viewing historical Japanese maps. Run in the user’s browser, Maplat allows users to view historical maps from numerous locations. Like many of the above described apps, the maps are overlaid onto a modern map and can be faded in and out. One of Maplat‘s best features is that it includes multiple maps for every location. For instance, whereas Aizu Kokan Tabi Chō has only one historical map for Aizu Wakamatsu, Maplat has ten different maps from different periods for the city. The controls are smooth and the zoom function is powerful. Like some of the aforementioned apps, Maplat also contains pinned markers with photographs and historical information. Its only downfall, in my experience, is that it can sometimes be a bit laggy. Through the use of Maplat Editor you can also edit and create your own maps.
Using Map Apps: Advantages and Disadvantages
Using apps to view historical Japanese maps is particularly useful when one is busy or traveling. The user can quickly open the relevant app and confirm the information that they are searching for without needing to delve into books, articles, libraries or archives. As such, they are also particularly useful for those who lack access to hard copies of historical Japanese maps, perhaps scholars who are unaffiliated or those who are based outside of Japan. Personally, I have often found myself using the apps on long journeys to confirm information or even just to kill time. Indeed, using these apps is an interesting and fun way to learn more about the history of different localities and the make-up of Japanese towns and cities historically. In this sense, they may also be good educational aids. Despite all this, I do not think that the above listed apps should be used as replacements for hard, printed copies. I imagine, for instance, that problems would arise when referencing a map contained within an app. Apps for viewing historical Japanese maps are useful and accessible additions to our research and teaching arsenals, but not replacements for archival research and primary sources.