Sendai (仙台市) is today one of Japan’s premier cities, with a population of over 1 million (2.34 million metro), being the largest city in the Tōhoku region (northern Honshu). Sendai is a relatively new city by Japanese standards, having been founded in 1600 as the new headquarters of the Date daimyō clan, one of the most powerful noble families in the country. A ‘castle town’ grew on the plain across the Hirose River from the Aoba Castle (青葉城 Aoba-jō), also called Sendai-jō (Sendai Castle, 仙台城), located upon a bluff, a short way inland from the incredibly scenic Matsushima Bay. Sendai soon became the most important and prosperous trading and cultural centre in Northern Japan, with the great distance from Edo and Kyoto imbuing the locals with strong independent streek.
Upon the enforced opening of Japan to foreign trade and cultural influence in the 1850s, Sendai stubbornly resisted change, becoming a centre of political conservativism, and was initially largely isolated from the massive changes that were sweeping the country’s major port cities.
During the Boshin War (1868-9), the long-ailing Shogunate regime took its last stand against the resurgent imperial (Meiji) forces. Sendai became the centre of the ‘Northern Coalition’, an alliance of daimyōs of northern Japan that vowed to maintain the Shogunate. However, the coalition suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Bonari Pass (October 6, 1868), near Sendai, which forced its armies to retreat to Hokkaido, where they met their final defeat in the summer of 1869, completing the full Meiji takeover of Japan.
In the wake of the conflict, Sendai embraced modernity, and heavily industrialized, resulting in great economic and population growth. It was connected to Tokyo by rail in 1887 and was incorporated as city in 1889. In the early 20th century, it was the scene of many modernizing firsts (ex. the local Tōhoku University became the first in the country to admit women). Sendai was almost totally destroyed by bombing by U.S. Air Force in latter part of World Warr II, such that very little of what appears on the present map survives to the present day.
The Present Map in Focus
This original manuscript map captures Sendai in 1862, during the twilight days of the Shogunate Era, when it had a population of around 50,000, making it the largest city in Japan north of Edo. It is a unique and historically important record of the city in its traditional form, before it was transformed by mass industrialization and urbanization.
Drafted freehand, in beautiful watercolours, on several joined pieces of rice paper, it is extremely detailed, and while not scientifically precise, it has a decent level of planimetric accuracy. Importantly, there are very few detailed plans of major Japanese regional centres (there were always many maps of Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka) from before the Meiji Era, which saw a revolution in surveying and the mass publication of maps throughout Japan. Indeed, while a few surely exit somewhere, we are not aware of a similarly detailed map of Sendai from such an early period.
The map, oriented with the West facing the upper left corner, shows the Hirose River streaming across the upper third of the map, above which is the highland containing the Aoba Castle and the associated walled military compounds (all upper right), while Sendai city unfolds on the relatively flat land across the river. Sendai, being a post-medieval city, features an urban plan of a fairly even grid of streets (all named and coloured yellow). Virtually every major land plot in the city is outlined, and key institutions and businesses labelled, with some heightened in red. The commercial areas, which hug the main thoroughfares and the downtown are shaded in purple, while residential areas are left in white. Parklands and forests (for which the city is famous) are shaded in green, while exurban areas not yet developed are shaded in pink.
References: N/A – Unique manuscript, seemingly unrecorded.