By Jordan Sand, revised by David Lurie
Updated Fall 2002 by Federico Marcon
CONTENTSI. How to Read Place Names
Nihon daichizuchô. 日本大地図帳 Heibonsha, 1985.
Call no.: REF G2355.H44 1985 F (in map case)
Nihon rettô daichizukan "Techno Atlas" 日本列島大地図館.
Call no.: REF G2355.S63 1990 F (in map case)
These are two standard atlases. The Nihon daichizuchô is the basic version: A few Landsat images are about as fancy as it gets, but it has the full run of regional, prefectural, and city maps, with information on railways, parks, shrines and temples, etc., and a gojûon index of places. If you're simply looking for a map, its the place to go, but if you want an experience, reach for the bells and whistles of the "Techno Atlas," a volume that includes all of the above and adds: exciting three-dimensional representations of topography; full color sections of the earth's core; statistical maps revealing what parts of Japan consume the most coffee, buy the most cars, have the most divorces, etc.; listings of important museums; and much, much more.
A massive volume published by the Geography Division of the Ministry of Construction. Divided into 14 sections (including Industry, Education, Transportation and communication, Culture, Society, Nature, Climate, etc.) with 52 subsections, it visually represents national statistics broken down by prefecture. Each section includes an interpretive essay, which sometimes contains graphs and charts. This coffee table of a book colorfully presents a wealth of not-yet-outdated information.
Comprehensive set of maps of present-day Japan. Principle organization is by prefecture. Each section includes maps depicting the prefecture, principle towns and cities, and road distances. Also includes lists of administrative divisions with furigana, and of government offices and major institutions. Population charts in back; a national index at the front.
Written in English. Maps provide cartographic representation of statistical information and natural features: industrial data, population information, land use, etc. Explanatory notes in English, French and Spanish follow the maps. Data is from early 1970's, and therefore quite out of date.
A handy little atlas in English, with nice topgraphical features and
easy to read. An excellent basic atlas to have on your desk, still in
print. If you can't find it at a bookstore, you can order it online
from the publisher.
Kadokawa Nihon chimei daijiten 角川日本地名大辞典. Kadokawa shoten,
Call no.: DS805. K27
M/S: VIII-5; IHJ: 1631
Nihon rekishi chimei taikei 日本歴史地名大系.
Heibonsha, 1979-. 50 vols.
Call no.: DS805. N5367
M/S: VIII-4; IHJ: 1569
These are the two great encyclopedic works for geographic reference, both of them recent productions. Both are organized similarly, with one volume per prefecture.
The bulk of each Kadokawa volume lists place names in gojûon
with detailed descriptions divided by historical period. Irritatingly,
Japanese dates are given without Gregorian calendar equivalents. The chishihen,
which constitutes the latter half of the volume, breaks down the region
by administrative unit, outlining the geography, history and current
of each. This is useful for background. The cities, towns etc. given
of their own in the chishihen are not covered in the gojuon section.
is no comprehensive index to both halves of the volume, so that a
investigation of any place requires some hunting in both. Names of
such as temples and shrines are often not listed, although they may
treatment within other entries. Nevertheless, the gojûon section
alone provides such extensive information for place names, both present
and past, that almost all basic needs can be answered there.
Entries in the Heibonsha encyclopedia read somewhat more as scholarly articles in history. Quotations from classical sources are given in the original language, for example. Kadokawa tends to paraphrase. In general, Heibonsha seems to offer more historical detail, but may provide less on the modern period, particularly such information as population figures or changes in administrative status. Although the organization of each entry in the Kadokawa is better designed for quick reference, Heibonsha has the advantage of a multiple reference index which includes places without entries of their own.
Because of the differences in approach and emphasis between these two encyclopedias, it is best to look at both for a complete historic summary on any given location.
Nihon chizu chimei jiten 日本地図地名事典. Sanseidô, 1991.
Call no.: REF DS805.N516 1991
These are three leading contenders for desktop chimei
jiten status, one from Shôgakukan and the other two from
Sanseidô. The Shôgakukan version includes 14 pages of
plates, with excellent color maps, and an index for "hard to read"
place names. The Sanseidô offerings both contain roughly 20,000
place names in gojûon
order. The "Konsaisu" version includes important historical
is smaller, and has a stroke-order index for hard-to-read
names. The Nihon chizu chimei jiten, while
it does not have historical names or a character index, does have 90
of excellent color maps linked to the entries by a simple system of
A geographical encyclopedia, with copious photographs, covering Japanese archipelago and Japanese possessions overseas in 18 volumes. A rich source of facts and images of Japan and the territories under Japanese occupation in the 1930s.
This is the largest and most postwar geographical encyclopedia,
designed for professional geographer more than the general reader.
Divided by region.
Each hefty volume contains text and extensive amounts of statistical
graphic information on the politics, culture, and economy of the
as well as the expected geography. A good place to go for statistics
the official word of this time on any part of the country in the 1970s.
Nihon rekishi chizu 日本歴史地図. Zenkoku kyôiku tosho,
Call no.: REF G2356.S1 N5 1956
75 maps arranged by historical period from prehistoric to modern. Political, economic, industrial, trade, education and military information. Explanatory notes follow each map. Three indices: one for place names mentioned in the Manyoshu, another general index by stroke number, and last an index of foreign place names in katakana, giving romanization or kanji as appropriate.
Color plates and fold-out maps depicting historically significant locations, battle sites, major cities and castles, and national political divisions. Early Showa place names and boundaries marked in relatively unobtrusive red, with the contemporaneous matter in black. The volume provides a sense of historical changes in political geography, especially during the Sengoku period.
Sixty sets of maps arranged by period, from prehistoric through modern. Although some of these overlap with the previous entry, emphasis differs somewhat, e.g. more attention is given to religion. No explanatory notes accompany the maps. One general index in gojuon order without furigana.
For the map-obsessed and those with a particular interest in one of the eight areas covered (including Nagano and Okayama), this volume will be a joy to behold. Using military geographical surveys begun in 1878, it documents changes by including a map for each period; in addition there is uneven supplementary material which includes references to other maps.
These are astonishingly beautiful books. Three centuries of Edo-Tokyo geography are displayed in these two massive, well-organized tomes. Volume one covers 1657-1895 and includes maps from seven collections, while volume two covers 1887-1957 with maps six more. They use a clever visual table of contents which allows the reader to closely follow the development of a particular area: a grid divides a modern city map into 24 areas, each of which corresponds to a section of the book. The grid is the same for each volume, so it is possible to examine an area's changes at intervals over the entire three hundred year period. The transformation of map-making techniques is as fascinating as the dramatic alterations in the city's geography.
An English-language volume of color plates of pre-Meiji maps, many of them from a single private collection. There are detailed notes on each map, and two general essays. Several large fold-out city maps are included. Though there is an index which helps in the location of a map of a particular location, the plates are organized by category (world, province, city, etc.); this is more of an introduction to premodern Japanese cartography than a reference work.
A dictionary of vocabulary relevant to historical geography (in
order). It contains many small maps and diagrams, and some of the
are signed and/or give references.
Edo-Tôkyôgaku jiten 江戸・東京学辞典. Sanseidô,
Call no.: REF DS 896.1 .E368 1987
These are both critical reference works for the history of the city
of Edo-Tokyo, and include a great deal of information on specific
places within the cityas well as topics related
to the life and culture of the city. They are well illustrated, and
with basic bibliographies. Name and general indices in the back. The Edogaku jiten is now available in a
reduced-size version that is very good for desktop reference in Edo
Kyôto daijiten: Fu-iki hen 京都大辞典－府域編. Tankôsha,
Call no.: REF DS897 .K84 K9265 1994
A dictionary of place names in the vicinity of the city of Edo that appear in literature. The vicinity of Edo is defined here as including areas that are now part of residential Tokyo and/or within about two days walk from the center of the city. In gojuon order, gives reading, description of the place and quotations from Edo works. Quotations often comprise the majority of the entry. Only titles are cited, without reference to modern editions or collections in which the works may be found.
A gojûon listing of Tokyo place names that appear in literature, including prominent institutions like temples, theaters and major shops. Historical sketches with literary quotations, lots of good Meiji and Taisho period maps. Useful as a cultural guide to the city's modern history.
Caution is necessary in consulting these books. The larger and more reliable general place name dictionaries should be checked first. Since place name etymology is often undocumentable and speculative, the etymological dictionaries are better treated as interesting compendia of lore.
A modest but reliable etymological dictionary of place names. It attempts to incorporate current scholarship in linguistics, geography and folklore studies. Cites Yanagida Kunio's Chimei no kenkyû. Relatively cautious about dubious etymologies. The present work is described as an interim report, until scholarship on the subject can be synthesized in a more comprehensive way. Does not include Ainu place names.
The scholarship in this work is outdated, but it does contain a useful list of ateji for Ainu place names, as well as a bibliography.
Useful for legend and lore of place names, but full of far- fetched etymologies. About one third is devoted to non-Japanese geography.
There are now countless guidebooks of Japan available, both in
English and Japanese, and the array is constantly changing. Out of this
huge diversity, we recommend the following for their value as sources
Japan National Tourist Organization, comp. Japan: New Official Guide Book.
(Multiple postwar editions through the 1960s.)
Butler Reference: R952.J27 (1964 edition).
East Asian OFFSITE: DS805 .J27 (1942, 1952, 1966 eds).
This dense and compact volume is now out of print, having been
replaced by more light-weight versions, but it is still very valuable
as an English-language reference for Japanese places. It can be
particularly useful if you want to know the English translations for
various local sights and customs. It is remarkably complete, and is not
cluttered with information about places to stay and eat, purely data
about places. No pictures either. There are, incidentally, many prewar
guidebooks, produced both by the national tourist agency and by private
guidebook publishers like Terry's. These can be easily tracked down,
and are very valuable for giving a sense of the prewar period, and what
tourists were encouraged to see, especially in the colonies.
Shin Nihon gaido. JTB, 21 vols. Updated and reprinted
Call no.: Not in East Asian Library.
These guidebooks, published by the Japan Travel Bureau, are generally the most thorough, and may be useful sources of information on historic sites and famous places for the scholarly armchair traveler.
UPDATE: This fine series as of mid-1995 now appears to be out of print, replaced by a variety of much more thin and trendy guides that cover only popular sites.
FURTHER UPDATE, 2005: The trend to the trendy in guidebooks continues unabated, but one encouraging exception has emerged in a new series from JTB called "Hitori Aruki." Fourteen volumes appeared from 1999-2003, and all are still in print, covering much of Japan. They do not offer coverage that is quite as comprehensive as the old Shin Nihon gaido, but they come close. They are no-frills, serious guidebooks: no color photos, no places to eat or stay, just solid descriptions of the site. They also have a Guide Michelin-like system of rating the sites with 1-3 stars. You can easily check titles and prices at Amazon.co.jp; just search for " ひとり歩きシリーズ". (HS)
This is simply the best guidebook in English. It is thoroughly
and beautifully written, and the introductory sections are a good way
forestalling some questions if friends or family come to visit. The
of stores and restaurants is excellent, especially for Kyoto. Nice
UPDATE 2005: The current edition is 1998, a bit out of date, but
still in print, for $33 new on Amazon.