Gyoki-zu (Gyoki Map) is an ancient-style map of Japan which is said to have been created by a Buddhist monk, Gyoki in the Nara period. However, the maps created when Gyoki was alive do not exist any more, and it is unknown whether the existing maps are the ones which Gyoki actually planned. Nevertheless, this map has been used as a prototype of the map of Japan for many generations, and maps of Japan made before the appearance of Sekisui NAGAKUBO and Tadataka INO are said to have basically come from this Gyoki-zu. For this reason, there are cases where maps of Japan are collectively called 'Gyoki-zu' or 'Gyoki-style map of Japan'.
Different versions were produced in different periods, but as the basic format, the general outline of the Japanese archipelago was formed by arranging (partly overlaying each other) tawara (straw bags for rice) or oval shapes (mainly ellipses or circles) expressing ryoseikoku (provinces) centering around Yamashiro Province where Heian-kyo (ancient capital in current Kyoto). From Heian-kyo, the roads of Goki shichido (five provinces and seven circuits) were extended and connected to all the provinces nationwide. In some versions, the number of counties and the areas of rice fields in each province were written.
A legend of the creation of maps by Gyoki
"Made by Gyoki Bosatsu" is written in many of the existing versions of 'Goki-zu', but the articles about Gyoki in Rikkokushi (Japan's six national histories chronicling the seventh and eighth centuries) and books on the history of Buddhism do not mention the fact of the creation of the map. It is said that the oldest 'Gyoki-zu' was the one which was donated to Shimogamo-jinja Shrine in 805, but the existing one is merely a copy which was handwritten in the Edo Period and its contents do not reflect the condition of the period (with the addition of Kaga Province which did not exist at that time).
If the 'Gyoki-zu' which was made when Gyoki was alive would exist in the first place, then the map should have been centered around Yamato Province because Japan's capital was located in Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) in Yamato Province (except for several years), but such a map has not been actually found. For this reason, doubting that Gyoki actually made the map, a theory says that 'People in a later period assumed that it had been authored by Gyoki, resulting in a legend to this effect'.
Nevertheless, in 646 right after Taika no Kaishin (Great Reformation of the Taika Era), an instruction to submit documents concerning province boundaries or maps was issued to all the provinces, and Minbusho (Ministry of Popular Affairs) in the government according to the Ritsuryo codes was responsible for the borders, and Toshoryo (Government Library) was responsible for storing maps, and so it is natural to believe that maps were made in the government. On the other hand, Gyoki and his religious community moved around various districts, performing both missionary and social works, and were involved in the construction of Todaiji-ji Temple rushanabutsuzo (the statue of Birushana Buddha), and therefore it is really conceivable that he possessed or was making in some way or other the maps to facilitate these activities.
Gyoki-zu in the Middle Ages
As mentioned above, the version which is considered to be the oldest is said to have been made in 805, but the original version no longer exists and the version which has been handed down to today is the copy made by Teikan TO (FUJII or FUJIHARA, 1732-1797), a researcher of Yusoku-kojitsu (knowledge of court rules, ceremony, decorum and records of the past) and some additions inconsistent with the realty of 805 are recognized (and it is unknown whether the additions were made by Teikan TO or somebody else before him).
Gyoki-zu is attached to "Nichureki" which is said to have been compiled in the Kamakura period based on what MIYOSHI no Tameyasu had written and to "Shogaisho" (an encyclopedia produced in Japan in the medieval ages) which is said to have been written by Kinkata TOIN in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan), but the original versions created at those times do not exist any more and the existing versions were made after the Muromachi period.
The oldest ones confirmed are the one with the inscription of the third year of Kaei (1305) in Kamakura period owned by Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, and the another owned by Kanazawa Library, Kanagawa Prefecture which is presumed to have been copied from the map owned by someone else in the same year. However, the two are quite different and seem to belong to different lineages, the former being in the typical Gyoki-zu format and the latter containing the Japanese archipelago surrounded by dragon-like creatures around which foreign countries like China and Mongolia and imaginative countries like Gando and Rasetsu-koku are painted, probably reflecting the circumstance of Kamakura which had been under military tension after the Mongol invasion attempts against Japan.
Information such as names of counties are written in the outer space surrounding the map of Japan drawn in "Nansenbushu Dainihon Seito-zu" (Human Living World Japan Orthodox Map) (formerly owned by Denko-ji Temple and presently owned by Toshodai-ji Temple) which is said to have been written in 1557 in the Sengoku period. This map or the map of the same style became the base of Gyoki-zu in the Edo period. Also, in those days, Gyoki-zu was adopted as the background of paintings on a folding screen and etc. Masterpieces include the painting on the folding screen in Hasshin-ji Temple in Obama City, Fukui Prefecture, which is said to have been drawn in the Momoyama period.
Furthermore, after the Muromachi period, Gyoki-zu was brought to Korean Peninsula, China, and far-away Europe, and used as source material for creating maps of Japan (cf. "Kaito Shokoku Ki," "Nihon Ikkan").
Gyoki-zu in the Edo period
When it came to the Edo period, mass-printed Gyoki-zu appeared as a result of the printing technology advancement. Most of them were maps inherited from either "Shogaisho" or "Nansenbushu Dainihon Seito-zu," and as the transportation systems were developed with the stabilization of the society, topography closer to the actual map of Japan began to be drawn. The Gyoki-zu published in Keian era (1648-1651), Shoo era (1652-1654), and Meireki era (1655-1657) now exist.
Nonetheless, after the publication of "Shoho Nihon-zu" (Japanese map in Shoho era), more accurate maps of Japan began to be created and published due to the advancement of transportation means and surveying techniques, and Gyoki-zu eventually disappeared from the fields of practical use and commercial publications.
However, Gyoki-zu has been used in the fields of education and arts for many generations. The Kutani-yaki (Kutani ware) 'chizu-sara' (map plate) with Gyoki-zu drawn on it which was made in Bunsei era and Imari-yaki (Imari ware) 'chizu-sara' which was made in Tenpo era were not only sold in Japan, but also exported out of Japan.