View Full Version : {WIP} Map of Edo Period Japan for Vagabonds

10-16-2013, 02:40 PM
Hello Cartographer's Guild! My name is Nicholas. A while back, I posted a thread in "Map Requests", asking for a talented cartographer to make a beautiful map for me and my team. We are based in Texas and Japan, and belong to a group of papermakers, developers, roleplayers, and historians. With our powers combined, we are creating a tabletop, pen&paper roleplaying experience set in Edo period Japan.

For most of my team, it's a part-time job. For me and Maiko (our current expert in Japanese linguistics and folktales), it's a full-time affair. I myself am a scholar of Japanese papermaking and book arts (and that comes with historical research into the Edo period itself) -- I have received a master's degree in these art forms, and continue to strive to learn more about them. So, I come from a traditional, hands-on approach to making artwork. Digital is not my forte. That is why I wanted someone to help me out. But, I was looking for someone who shared my "traditional" approach and concept. The artist we ended up picking is the Guild's very own Schwarzkreuz.

This thread will be a development diary of sorts (combined with my blog). Maiko is from Japan (and still lives there, but is currently studying abroad for a master's program in the states), and I myself have lived there, and the two of us have conducted extensive field research into our project. We've traveled to a lot of different places and have met some interesting people.

As such, the map is not a modern, satellite-perfect portrayal of Japan. Instead, it is an attempt to create Japan as citizens under the Tokugawa Shogunate might have seen Japan. Placement of cities and roads, etc. has been key for us, and we deciphered an older script of Japanese (sometimes with a lot of headaches). But all in all, it's been a great experience so far. Additionally, since our game is actually set in an alternate, fantastic version of the Edo period, we wanted to convey a "fantasy" feel, but also one that is intrinsically tied to Japanese mythology, folktales, and aesthetics/Edo period culture.

Schwarzkreuz is doing the artwork, and he can elaborate on that. For now, I will give you our progress on the conceptual side:

1.) We started with a map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives. It is dated from the Edo period.

2.) Schwarzkreuz traced an outline of the map using a sumi brush stroke. It turned out beautifully. With this outline, Maiko and I were able to go through and begin deciphering the map itself, finding where things go. This was harder than it seems -- the map is definitely "off" compared to modern representations, or Meiji period colonial representations. Additionally, Japan has a modern history of rerouting rivers. Often, Edo period rivers were in slightly different places than their modern counterparts. We had to account for this. Luckily, we had visited many archives while in Japan and were able to get a few samples.

3.) Because travel is so important to our game, we mapped out the entire Tōkaidō and Nakasendō (two major foot highways during the Edo period). We mapped out every station, but our final map will only include "major" post station settlements. We will also include some minor roads, but not many stations on these roads.

4.) I am in the process of making sheets of Japanese paper (washi) to scan and be used for textures on the map. This is my washi making process, which I have studied now for several years. You can read about it here, if you are interested. (http://forums.samurai-archives.com/viewtopic.php?t=5888) I will be posting updates on this. We will also be using scans from papers from the makers I know in Japan, since we will also be printing on their paper.

5.) I am also in the process of making color fields by doing mokuhanga (Japanese woodblock printing), which I am also somewhat experienced in. So, I am going to print color fields onto my handmade paper using the same techniques ukiyo-e artists like Hiroshige and Hokusai used. After making these blocks, I will scan and send to Schwarzkreuz, who, like with the washi, will incorporate them into the map.

6.) Maiko, who is an artist from Japan currently working to get her Master's in Fine Art, also happens to be exceptional at calligraphy. She will be doing some Japanese calligraphy for the compass symbols, and will be writing a lot of the names in English (but using sumi brush calligraphy ... and making it kind of intentionally "messy" to capture our "Vagabonds" feel). We are going to scan these and put them on the map as labels.

The final map will come in both digital versions, poster versions (printed on normal poster paper), and deluxe versions, which will be archival-printed on actual handmade washi from a maker we know in Japan (large size). Therefore, the map you see below is not the full resolution version. We are also making this an illustrative map, rather than a political map. We hope, in the near future, to make an entire atlas of maps relating to Edo period Japan, including zoomed-in art versions of the major highways, maps of regions, and maps of cities/shrine complexes/etc.

Again, I will let Schwarzkreuz go into more detail on the visual stuff. He has done some great work for us already, and we are excited to all be working together.

I look forward to keeping this development diary on these boards, and to your comments/suggestions/whatever. :) If you're interested in the game itself, check out my signature. We finally started a blog, but the project itself has been in the works for 7+ years. We are expecting the core rulebook to be fully edited and ready to print by early 2014 (the map, hopefully much earlier than that ;)).

- Nick

(Below is the original version [sized down] of the map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives. The second image is some of the crazy stuff we are doing, mapping out the locations on that map [some of which are labeled, others which we have to "find" through careful observation].)

10-16-2013, 02:54 PM
Holy c...! Very cool! Colour me extremely interested!
Care to talk system for a bit? I'm a long time roleplayer with an interest for game-mechanics.

And good choice for cartographer! SK is very talented! I'm sure the map will be awesome :)

10-16-2013, 02:58 PM
Sounds like a wonderful project, I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this.


10-16-2013, 03:19 PM
After an interesting time spend on research and testing, I am sure this will be one of my best maps, when its done.
When more elements of the Map are done, I will adding more detailed postings about the processes used on this map.

10-16-2013, 04:30 PM
Sounds like a wonderful project, I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this.


Holy c...! Very cool! Colour me extremely interested!
Care to talk system for a bit? I'm a long time roleplayer with an interest for game-mechanics.

And good choice for cartographer! SK is very talented! I'm sure the map will be awesome :)

Glad to have you interested. :) Actually, public playtesting will be open hopefully around the end of October. We are having roleplaying groups around the world try it out using a small pamphlet of rules and setting guidelines. You can always sign up for that (and I plan on posting about it on RPG-specific boards). But to be brief and conceptual about it: it is my belief that, if a game is to take place in such a specific setting, that it deserves its own ruleset. We are not using existing systems, but are making one that is tied to our setting and storyline.

I would say we are far more influenced/inspired by the relatively recent "Fate" than D&D/L5R or GURPS. For example, our system does not have attribute scores in the traditional sense, and we like using descriptors instead of numbers. It's a lot about characters and their flaws, and using those flaws to do interesting things (or overcoming them). We do give the GM considerable leeway, depending on the kind of game she wants to organize -- but overall, the system is catered to creating dynamic, intriguing characters/situations, and not "invincible katana-wielding samurai of destruction" or "fireball-breathing monks of magic". Essentially, our system reflects our concept.

- Nick

10-19-2013, 01:57 PM
Update: October 19, 2013

An update from my side of things. I am working on my batch of washi (handmade Japanese paper) so that SK can create textures with the scanned result. These textures will be used in the digital and poster versions, while the archival-printed version will be on large sheets of sized washi (so the ink doesn't bleed). I want people who receive the digital and poster versions to still have something special, which is why I am going through these lengths to provide an accurate and pleasing texture.

Below you will see two photographs (+1 image). The first one is of a process called chiri tori. We cooked the kozo bark with a wood-fired stove and rinsed the bark thoroughly. After that, we had to pick the little imperfections out of each strand of bark. This is the essence of chiri tori. For this map texture, I want something light-colored and without speckles, so all of the remnants of the outer layer of bark needed to be removed (so, brown bits being removed from the lighter, "purer" bits). Each strand of bark had to be run through the bucket of water, kept wet, and then purified. I used tweezers for the stubborn pieces, my fingers for the others. It's finally gotten a bit cold here in north Texas, so the water kept nice and cool (which is what you want to avoid bacterial growth).

The second photograph is the beating process. After I picked the bark of the imperfections, I began to beat it with a handmade wooden mallet (as shown). The photograph displays the beating process well-in. Before that, they were essentially the shape of stripped bark strands. The cooking made them softer and removed the decaying properties. For this paper, I have beaten the fiber for a few hours (with my mallet and my speed -- this can be done in a much shorter time in more well-equipped Japanese studios). I do not think I will beat it any more after this photograph was taken.

The image next to the photographs is our progress in documenting locations on this old map. Maiko and I have been swimming in pools of books and old maps, figuring out locations and specific roads. Sometimes the names on this old map have an added syllable or two, which we always look into. It was common during the Edo period for one location to be called something by the people living on one side of the road, and called something completely different from people living on the other side. Geographic features, like mountains, are usually obvious and easy, though we are attempting to give mountains and rivers their period-specific names, and not their modern names (most of them are the same, but some are not). We hope to get this old map completely deciphered by the end of the weekend. :)

- Nick

11-14-2013, 11:10 PM
Hello again everyone! It's been a while since the last update. Schwarzkreuz is hard at work on the map. Maiko and I finished our outline of the old Japanese map a few weeks ago, and we finally have a few of our larger sheets of washi prepared. We are going to take them to a large format scanner and get digital versions to SK as soon as possible for textures.

I am attaching a small version of our final outline, so you can at least see how much went into it. It isn't visually spectacular. :)

SK continues to make exceptional progress. We have been very happy working with him, and have enjoyed his attention to detail. He is essentially drawing the entire landscape by hand. We are going for a mix of ukiyo-e colors and simple line work -- it isn't any "one" traditional style, but more like a mix of several (and then, of course, SK's own handdrawn style mixed in). Some parts of it are illustrator-y/painterly, while others are more woodblock print. It's been fun watching this style develop. I am attaching a few shots, which SK authorized me to post. I'm sure he'd appreciate your rep, if you deem it worthy. :)

None of the colors are finalized here, by the way. Coloring will come after the line work. SK was also tinkering with some traditional Japanese patterns for the water (seikaiha is the name of the waves pattern shown in one of these pics). Also still to come are settlements and roads. So obviously, this firmly remains a WIP.

On the Vagabonds front itself: we are accepting playtest groups currently, so if any of you play tabletop roleplaying games and want to participate in our international playtest, don't hesitate to let me know.

- Nick

11-15-2013, 11:53 AM
A more complete sample of progress, courtesy of Schwarzkreuz. :)

11-15-2013, 12:13 PM
Well, I have to say that I like where this is going! It already looks very promising.

11-30-2013, 02:14 AM
Here we go! A huge update. First of all, some progression shots:

Stage 1: The map from the Tokyo National Museum historical archives + concept notes.


Stage 2: Research + began outlining + concept solidification. Edo period-style border added.


Stage 3: Finished outline.


Stage 4: Outline drawing begins.


Stage 5: Brushwork outline finished.


Stage 6: Color base added.


Stage 7: Landmass tones added. Coastal outlines added. River colors altered.


Stage 8: Colors, shades, and other details added to geographic features. Woodblock (ukiyo-e) gradient added. Weather gradient added. Handmade washi paper texture added.


Stage 9: Gradient perfected, roads added.


Stage 10: Adding icons now.


That's where we are now, more or less. Very close to finishing. It's been a long and arduous journey, but I am extremely happy with the result. Collaborating with SK has been incredibly rewarding for both myself and Maiko.

The photoshop file football has been tossed to me now. I'm going to tinker with icons and move locations to where they need to be. And then, of course, Maiko's hand-written labels will be important. We are not going to include all of the settlements that we outlined. Most, but not all. Icons will be separated into population sizes (cities), major Shinto shrines, and major Buddhist temples. More temples and shrines than what are shown on the outline will be included. I'd also like to figure out some way to elegantly inform viewers which towns have castles. Perhaps a simple square or diamond enveloping the dot?

Also, my handmade washi really altered the color of the water. We might have to play with that so it is a little less "lime" colored. There also appear to be some repeating artifacts in the paper ... perhaps a leftover from the texture we were using beforehand. The texture of the main handmade washi gives the overall background a subtle and beautiful boost.

I will post the finished map when it's ready. We are working on this while putting the finishing touches on parts of our PDF playtest packet (which is basically the rough draft of our core rulebook), so there's a lot going on. Any general comments or suggestions would be much appreciated!

11-30-2013, 04:32 AM
This looks fantastic! Very much looking forward to seeing the finished product.


12-02-2013, 09:10 AM
Oh we are soon finishing the Map!

12-02-2013, 11:09 PM
This is beautiful, keep it up!

12-02-2013, 11:32 PM
Yes, only Labels left which will be done by Maiko. She called my affords to paint japanese Letters "cute"... Haha I hope it wasnt so horrorble :D
This project grows with its amazing Team and new possibilities may comeup to map even more of this Setting. The map itself was a great challenge booth artistically and accuracity to its original source. Painting Fantasy Maps are often very low restricting, but to create a convincing period map is a whole new level, if you don't just copy outlines from realworld Data but adapt old material and reinvoce its beouty and feel.

12-03-2013, 05:17 PM
Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Working with SK has been quite fluid for us. He is definitely right when he says there is more cartography to be done in the Vagabonds setting. I am greatly looking forward to future creations!

And, SK, I like that you brought up the real world data issue. We did not just take the old map, translate the Japanese, and label it as such. We actually went in and pinpointed locations, cross-referenced with other maps, laid out the roads, rivers, and major geographic areas accordingly, and included a variety of places not even mentioned on that map, but nonetheless important / period-specific. Given the sketchiness of that map to begin with, we moved around a lot of things, and made locations more specific (for example, sometimes on these old maps, location names are put down in the middle of the province, even though that location is actually on the coast). It was a merging of styles, as well as a pooling of data and research -- and our interpretation of it. So, while that map was used as an outline and base, we could actually create an entire list of references for just this map. Modern-day data and satellite imagery was really only used for climate zone reference. If you look at a satellite map of Japan today, you see a Japan quite different from that of 300-400 years ago -- Tokyo has leveled a lot of the surrounding terrain, rivers have been dammed and rerouted, etc.

SK: Maiko says that whenever I try to write Japanese, and I've been practicing for a while. :) I imagine our writing looks like a child's to her.

She is exceptionally fast at doing the beautiful brushwork for the labels. I'll get a shot of her at work this evening. What is taking a while is formatting them so that they do not cover up SK's beautiful artwork. I imagine the 3 metropolises and the cities will have the "boxed" text, akin to maps from the time period, whereas smaller locales will not be boxed in. We are still tinkering, but it's coming along. To be clear: the map will be in English, with the exception of Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka, which will be in Japanese kanji (though the English in small text nearby).

I just realized I never posted a shot of the finished handmade paper, with it's beautiful laid lines. Here it is:


I can't express my appreciation of the community here enough, for providing an outlet for someone like me to find a cartographer such as SK, as well as providing valuable and supportive community feedback. A toast to the guild.

12-06-2013, 02:34 PM
This is such an awesome project! I've really enjoyed following the progress, and the map itself is just beautiful! Very unique style too, which I love. Can't wait to see the final version with all the labels! :)

I'm a big fan of Japanese culture, and I especially love watching doramas set in the Edo period, so this was particularly fascinating for me! :)

12-06-2013, 06:42 PM
The final Project will interest you for sure. When Nick and the Team get everything in a final version, I promise to send you a note so you will not miss out the Result.

12-06-2013, 06:48 PM
That would be great, thanks! :)

12-08-2013, 05:03 PM
Here's a little glimpse of what I'm trying to do:


Still a lot to be done, but you can get a look at Maiko's calligraphy. I think I'm going to go with this style, where the larger/more important locales do not have icons, but are represented purely by their boxed calligraphy. Meanwhile, minor locations will remain without "boxes". I think I also need to work on the boxes to make them look a little less computerized.

02-03-2014, 08:53 AM
rlly nice look map, i'am tring to do a map like your's guys, if you can i need some help and hint about your style, if you can pm i would be gratefully!!!!

02-05-2014, 12:04 PM
Such a wonderful project. I'm really impressed with how much thought you guys have put into the development of each facet of the map, from calligraphy to colour to its presentation etc. The mixing of styles is really nice, incorporating many of the strengths of each style to make it unique. I love those little puffs of smoke erupting from the mountains (if my eyes deceive me, the mountain smoke above Odawara looks like a simpsons-style girl kissing :P).

IMHO, I think the larger places would look better with some kind of symbol associated with it, either above or below the calligraphy boxes. Perhaps a small triangle coming out of the box to point to its location? Otherwise it looks like it's for a province or region (will you include those as well?). :)

On a tangential note: I'm really interested in 14th-16th century Japan but have come short on finding detailed maps on each of the old provinces that existed then and their respective ownership/occupation. If I ever get the time or find the right person interested in such a large task, I'd really like to see an approximate year (or monthly) account of the wars that occurred then and the movement of clan troops & supplies across and within provinces in a modern Japan map. I've found a couple decent maps on a macrolevel with all the main locations identified but nothing scaled down to specific regions. I realise a lot of that information for that period is difficult to find let alone believe its authenticity (or hasn't been translated yet!) but it's a curiosity I've had for a while. =/ I was wondering if you had come across anything like that in your own research or can point me to a few places that has that information? Happy to continue this via PM so as not to derail your thread. :)

02-09-2014, 09:50 PM
Thank you for the comment, Sharpes, as well as the thoughtful suggestion!

The map continues to drift unfinished at this point, though we have the calligraphy finished and we know how to proceed. We just need to find the time for it. The Vagabonds game itself has been taking up all of our free time. We are currently near completion of the next (and hopefully final) draft.

The Edo period is much, much different from the 14th-16th centuries (roughly the Sengoku period). Shogun: Total War, for example, is focused around the Sengoku jidai (creating a war game in the Edo period would be incredibly boring). Vagabonds is all about shattering the samurai-centric perspective of Japanese culture and history.

That being said, creating a map of the Sengoku period with the information you desire is not impossible, but it would be an immense challenge. The information is available, just not necessarily in English. The target map would have to be huge, otherwise it will be cluttered. You might want to pick a specific conflict, or a specific two clans to focus on for the 200 years you wish to document. The Uesugi vs the Takeda come to mind, and there's a good deal of information on that if you're willing to go to the library. Also, the folks at Samurai Archives are friendly and knowledgable, and would be willing to help you. One fellow there is particularly interested in the particulars of samurai warfare and military doctrine, if I remember correctly.

You'll also find a bunch of maps showing what clan occupied what territory in a given timeframe. These tend to be accurate, but in a general sense. Political boundaries were not very elegant during that time, for obvious reasons, so most of those borders are approximations. Additionally, the power, prestige, and influence of a daimyo was greatly dependent on his connections, in addition to (sometimes rather than) the amount of land he was in control of. That's why Sengoku period maps can be confusing; you'll have a family simultaneously "controlling" two domains on the opposite side of a province, or even an entire region. If you look at a lot of non-European, authentic Japanese maps of the time period, you'll often see labels rather than borders to show political power or influence.

Good luck to you!

06-17-2014, 12:09 PM
Hi there Cartographer's Guild,

This map has gone way beyond our original expectations, so much so that we have modeled an entire Kickstarter campaign around finishing the darn thing. We want to print beautiful, physical, archival prints of it on Japanese paper (washi), and develop an accompanying booklet for understanding the time period. Check out our Kickstarter, A Land of Narrow Paths (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nicholascladis/a-land-of-narrow-paths).

And again, a huge thanks to people in this community. Without the Cartographer's Guild, we never would have found Vandel, who continues to be a pleasure to work with. And, your suggestions have been incredibly useful in developing this map (and we'll continue to ask for them as we finally push this through the finish line).

Thank you,


06-18-2014, 09:50 AM
This map is one of my faves here at the CG, and I just want to say again what a wonderful project this is. I wish you all the best with it! I'll definitely be making a pledge for the Kickstarter. :)

I was thinking, maybe you could consider reaching out to the folks at DramaFever (http://www.dramafever.com). At the moment, they mainly provide Korean dramas, but I've noticed lately that they're starting to add more from Japan. They might be willing to promote your project/Kickstarter. For example, in conjunction with Edo-period dramas they've either just added, or will be adding soon.

I've seen many, many comments from other DramaFever members, about how they want to see more Japanese dramas added. And period dramas (from both Korea and Japan) are always extremely popular, so there's a very large pool of potential interest there. I know if I had seen an article from them about new Edo-period dramas, along with your project, I would have been very intrigued.

So, just a thought... :)

06-18-2014, 03:05 PM
Thank you very, very much for your contribution, Neyjour! Glad to have you on board. :)

And what a wonderful idea. Do you know of any forums or social areas where DramaFever is discussed? Or are you recommending that I contact them directly? Indeed, this project would be fantastic for anyone interested in period-specific dramas, books, anime, etc.

Thank you again for the contribution, and the suggestion! Please share it with your friends, too.

06-18-2014, 04:31 PM
Thank you very, very much for your contribution, Neyjour! Glad to have you on board. :)

And what a wonderful idea. Do you know of any forums or social areas where DramaFever is discussed? Or are you recommending that I contact them directly? Indeed, this project would be fantastic for anyone interested in period-specific dramas, books, anime, etc.

Thank you again for the contribution, and the suggestion! Please share it with your friends, too.

You're very welcome! :)

Unfortunately, they don't have a forum on their site, and I don't know of any external discussion sites/forums for them (a Google search didn't turn up anything). But yeah, I was thinking you could contact them directly: How do I Contact DramaFever? (http://support.dramafever.com/customer/portal/articles/847086-how-do-i-contact-dramafever-)

They only have a very small selection of Japanese dramas at the moment, but I know they're gearing up to add more. Their site search doesn't reveal them, but with a Google search (for specific titles) there are quite a few pages that pop for some of the most popular ones, with an option to get notifications when episodes are added. Plus, they just recently sent out a survey poll to members, asking about which countries people are interested in, and Japan and Taiwan were specifically listed, along with "Other". So I think they already know it's a given that the Asian ones are going to be the most popular.

An article from them, promoting new Edo-period dramas + your project, would garner a lot of interest. I honestly don't know how open they'll be to it, but it can't hurt to ask. :)

But another place you could promote at, yourself, is JDorama.com (http://www.jdorama.com/). It's a large community (over 40,000 members), specifically for Japanese dramas, and has a forum (slide down to the bottom of the main page).

On a related note, when I first became interested in anime, I'd never even heard of the "Edo period"... until I watched Samurai Champloo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samurai_champloo). :D

06-18-2014, 07:20 PM
Again, a great suggestion there (JDorama)! I don't think many forums appreciate unsolicited Kickstarter ads, though, even if I do genuinely believe that community would get something out of this project. The reason I posted here is because this whole thing kind of began at the guild. I will work on it, though, and might try to post something in the "Learn Japanese" section. I'll also look into the DramaFever thing. Many thanks for the tips.

Samurai Champloo is a great show. I also recommend Mushishi for a subtle, beautiful Edo period manga/anime about a wanderer. It's not for everyone, but it's definitely one of my favorites. :)

06-18-2014, 11:33 PM
Posting about it here is perfectly fine! And professional-quality products (which yours definitely is) can even go in the News (http://www.cartographersguild.com/news/) section. :)

I do understand your concerns about posting in other forums. The only other suggestion I can think of is to make use of your deviantART gallery by posting a really nice promotional mock-up, showcasing one version of the digital map, a photograph of the other version (printed, with one of the corners slightly rolled), a page or two from the PDF booklet, a photo of the physical booklet cover, a photo of the cards (if you reach that goal) fanned out, etc., etc. And include a detailed write-up about it all (with links) in your Artist's Comments.

EDIT: Or, you could do the write-up in a journal entry, and showcase all the different pieces of the project in separate gallery posts.

Obviously, that idea would be for after the Kickstarter is finished, and everything has been made, printed, etc. But the way it's going so far, it looks like you have a very good chance anyway of reaching your stretch goals. :D

Thanks for the Mushishi rec! I've not heard of that one. I'll definitely check it out! :)

06-19-2014, 01:09 PM
Many thanks for all the suggestions and kind words. We'll definitely be posting some pretty fun updates in the near future, which will include some new samples. :)

Things were slow yesterday, but picked up in the evening, overnight, and then this morning a tad. We passed our first stretch goal (the $4k mark). If we get to $5k, all backers receive a complimentary, print-and-play card game. Pretty cool, in my opinion. ;)

07-12-2014, 02:56 PM
Hi folks! We're on the last day of our Kickstarter. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nicholascladis/a-land-of-narrow-paths) Thought some of you might be interested. Thanks again for all the support here! I'm excited to say that, in many ways, this project was only possible because of the guild.

07-24-2014, 04:41 PM
Congratulations for your success in this project

05-25-2015, 09:20 AM
That's some gorgeous mapping technique.