The "Google Map" in the Edo Period !? The master of surveying and cartography Ino Tadataka (伊能忠敬) introduced

Jul 2018
Hong Kong
The statue of Ino Tadataka.jpg

Ino Tadataka (伊能忠敬, 1745 - 1818) made a staggering contribution in the history of Japanese altas-making. He finished the first complete and extraordinarily accurate map of Japan, which was still on use even at 100 years later in the Meiji Era. More incredible was that he accomplished it in aging times during his 55 - 73 years. What a robust, energetic old man devoted for such an arduous task beyond our imagination !

In AD 1903, his story was depicted in the Japanese national textbook for the first time ; In AD 1977, the novel The 40-million-paces-man (四千万歩の男) was published displaying this person's extraordinary deeds ; in AD 1998, the Ino Tadataka Memorial Hall (伊能忠敬記念館) was established in his hometown Sawara (佐原, nowadays Katori, 香取) ; in AD 2001, a copper statue of Ino Tadataka was erected in Tomioka Hachiman Shrine (富岡八幡宮) ; in AD 2010, all surveying tools and related documents used by Ino Tadataka totalled 2,345 in collection were designated as the national treasure with the name of "Ino Tadataka Archive" (伊能忠敬関係資料).

Surely you began to be curious (I guess 99% of you have never heard of this great man before), what made him so great ? I'll narrate his story in short at below.

Initially, he was a successful merchant

On 11th January 1745, Ina Tadataka, whose childhood name was Jinbo Sanjiro (神保三治郎), was bornt in Ozeki Village (小関村) in nowadays Kujukuri-machi, Chibi Prefecture (千葉県九十九里町). So his surname was Jinbo initially. In age 17, on 8th December 1762, he became an "adopted-son-in-law" of the Ino Clan, thus adopted the name Ino Tadataka (伊能忠敬). In consequence, he assumed the Ino Clan's family business in Sawara including wine-brewing, soy-sauce-brewing, money-lending...etc. Unfortunately, the clan's business was declining when Tadataka began to ran it. It was the first great challenge in Tadataka's lifetime !

Yet, Tadataka proved himself an outstanding merchant. He instantly cut the budget by living in frugality, and also set up the warehouse business in Edo for brokering the trade of rice crops. Within 10 years, he successfully saved his family business and earned tremendous profit in commerce — according to the estimation, the annual income had reached 35 millions yen when he was 29 years old — definitely a young genius as a businessman !

When he was 38 years old, in AD 1783, the Great Tenmei Famine (天明の大飢饉) broke out, he exerted every effort to salvage the poor people who were deeply suffering with distribution of money and rice. Not a single inhabitant living in the village where Tadataka inhabited died in starvation.

Subsequently, his personal wealth kept boosting. In age 49, he retired and rendered the position of clan leader to his eldest son. Indeed, he was not going to "retire" — he desired for further study in astronomical observation. He was going to contribute more to society and state with accumulation of knowledge !

In age 50, AD 1795, he travelled to Edo from Sawara and studied from the contemporary no.1 astronomist Takahashi Yoshitoki (高橋至時), who was 19 years younger than himself. Yoshitoki was unsatisfied of the accuracy of the newest calendar made by a Shogunate magistrate. Tadataka proposed an idea of finding out the meridian line (子午線) by observing the height of two polar stars and distance between them from Edo (江戸) and Ezo (蝦夷, nowadays Hokkaido 北海道). Hence, he was resolute in conducting the land-survey throughout the Ezo region. Ironically, the land-survey cartographic work was actually motivated by the astronomical purpose rather than the pure need of maps for home-nation.

And afterward he became a surveyor and cartographer

The Shogunate not only permitted Yoshitoki and his team to surveying the Ezo region, but the entire Japan as well. With such an opportunity, he spent 17 years for conducting the thorough land-survey of Japan with measuring tools and his sweat and toil — 10 expeditions were launched as below :

1st Expedition (1800) : surveying the Ezo coastline
2nd Expedition (1801) :
surveying the Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島) and the south-eastern coastline of Japan
3rd Expedition (1802) :
surveying the north-eastern coastline of Japan
4th Expedition (1803) :
surveying the Tokai-Hokuriku region (東海・北陸)
5th Expedition (1805-06) :
surveying the Kinai-Chugoku region (近畿・中国)
6th Expedition (1808) :
surveying the Shikoku region (四国)
7th Expedition (1809-11) :
surveying the Kyushu region (九州)
8th Expedition (1811-14) :
surveying the Kyushu region (九州)
9th Expedition (1815) :
surveying the Izu Islands (伊豆諸島)
10th Expedition (1815-16) :
surveying the city of Edo

By the last survey, Tadataka was already 71 years old. He had treaded over 40,000 kilos, which was tantamount to circumnavigation of the earth !

Unfortunately, Tadataka could not live to see the completion of the great atlas for which he spent so much time and effort in surveying. On 13th April 1818, he passed away. Only by three years later (AD 1721), his disciples and partners finally finished the Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu (大日本沿海輿地全図, Maps of Japan's coastal area) composed of over 200 large, middle and small maps. and published this incredible work. Even the 19th century Westerners were utterly astounded of this masterpiece : how possible the "uncivilized nation" like Japan could achieve this amazing work !?

Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu.jpg

So what do you think about this story ? Welcome any opinion and feedback.

Source :

伊能忠敬の功績に驚嘆! 地図おたくにして後期高齢者の星はいかなる道を歩んだか
伊能忠敬 - Wikipedia


Last edited:
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
Unrelated but maybe of some interest. Lin Zexu wrote an encyclopedia of Europe and India and its people. It also included brilliant maps of India and Europe. I found it impressive because this was done during the early 1800's in the Qing Dynasty. His expertise on Europeans was one of the reasons he was made governor of Guangdong during the opium crisis.
Oct 2013
Tokugawa-san, thank You for it.

But I do have something to nitpick: why "Google Map" ?!?

IMHO, associating "G-map" and Tadataka is diminishing Tadataka's work.
Last edited:
Jul 2018
Hong Kong
Lin Zexu wrote an encyclopedia of Europe and India and its people. It also included brilliant maps of India and Europe. I found it impressive because this was done during the early 1800's in the Qing Dynasty. His expertise on Europeans was one of the reasons he was made governor of Guangdong during the opium crisis.
Interesting, I have never known that, though I did remember that he ever wrote an official letter to Queen Victoria of Britain for urging her "stop dumping opium into China".

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