Historical walks using map apps give new depth to familiar places in Tokyo

By THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN Published: April 29, 2012

TOKYO — People of all ages are getting a new perspective on familiar landscapes as they take walks using maps from the Edo period (1603-1867) and other past eras.

Participants say they can imagine the daily lives of samurai warriors and townspeople in olden days, even in places now thick with modern buildings. In a further blend of the old and the new, some look at historical maps on their smartphones during the walks.

In mid-April, 14 people from their 20s to their 70s used old maps to guide them on a four-hour walk from Tokyo's Kanda area to Nihonbashi. Seeing that a modern lane with buildings lined up on both sides was a river in the Edo period, one participant exclaimed in surprise.

The participants were members of a group founded one year ago by Miho Kawashima, 34, who runs a coffee shop in Tokyo. Many are regular customers of her coffee shop, while others got to know Kawashima through the Internet.

More than half the members are in their 20s and 30s.

Kawashima uses a smartphone application to plan the walks, as well as guidebooks containing historical maps. Named "Konjaku Sampo," the app overlays an image of an Edo-period or Meiji-era (1868-1912) map over a present-day map.

"Plots of samurai dwellings in the Edo period are now areas full of buildings, while the site of a bugyosho (similar to a present-day police station and court) is now a park. It's fun to imagine a samurai warrior wearing a sword walking around in the current place," Kasashima said.

A number of companies are also holding historical walks, capitalizing on their recent popularity.

In mid-April, Prince Hotel Tokyo held a walking event in which participants toured the remains of samurai dwellings and temples around the hotel.

Members of a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization acted as guides. The NPO's director, 63-year-old Kazumi Kiyota, showed a relevant historic map to a 27-year-old female graduate student who looked on eagerly.

"Many young women have joined our events recently," Kiyota said. "That's likely because rekijo (women passionate about history) have a growing interest in historical maps."

Several municipalities and tourist associations have been using such maps for promotion.

For example, the Sumida Tourist Office in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, where Tokyo Skytree will open on May 22, has been jointly developing a free application with a software company to provide tourists with an Edo-period map of the areas surrounding Skytree.

The Nara prefectural government is already offering a free application that provides Edo-period and Meiji-era maps of 11 spots, including Todaiji temple in Nara. Yamaguchi Prefecture offers tours of historical places related to the Meiji Restoration with relevant historical maps.

Guidebooks for town walking with historical maps also are available. One is small enough to be easily carried during a walk, while another contains a present-day map printed on transparent paper to enable readers to overlay it on an old map of a same place.

"People will enjoy walking in Tokyo more if they have a theme, such as visiting the remains of a dwelling for a domain relevant to their prefectures, or places related to 'Chushingura' (The 47 Ronin)," said Hirofumi Yamamoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo who is familiar with historical maps.

Yamamoto makes albums of pictures taken during such walks.

"We discover many things while walking, such as the fact that a narrow lane used to be a river. It's also a nice idea to take notes about such findings or write down what we felt during a walk, and then write a diary with pictures," she said.


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