The New York Times The New York Times Technology April 10, 2003  

Job Market
Real Estate
- Circuits
- Columns
New York Region
NYT Front Page
Readers' Opinions

NYC Guide
Dining & Wine
Home & Garden
Fashion & Style
Week in Review
Learning Network
Book a Trip
Theater Tickets
NYT Store
NYT Mobile
About NYTDigital
Jobs at NYTDigital
Online Media Kit
Our Advertisers
Your Profile
E-Mail Preferences
News Tracker
Premium Account
Site Help
Privacy Policy
Home Delivery
Customer Service
Electronic Edition
Media Kit
Community Affairs
Text Version

New In Ear earphones Order from Shure now

Go to Advanced Search/ArchiveGo to Advanced Search/ArchiveSymbol Lookup
Search Options divide
go to Member Center Log Out
  Welcome, seacape

In Vintage Maps, a Japan Bygone Floats Lyrically Online


BERKELEY, Calif. -- FOR half a century, a rare and extensive collection of historical Japanese maps spanning hundreds of years have been stored in the East Asian Library at the University of California, revealing their secrets only to those few who had received permission to handle them. Now, through state-of-the-art imaging technology, anyone can view these fragile maps online, at

So far, 210 maps - some dating back almost 400 years - from the 2,300-piece collection are online. The collection, which will be available for viewing in its entirety within two years, includes 252 maps of the city of Edo (now Tokyo), 79 maps of Kyoto and 40 maps of Osaka spanning the years 1600 to 1867. Many are woodblock prints on handmade paper. The collection also includes a map from 1710 depicting the center of the world as the source of four great rivers of India, and a 40-foot scroll map of the roads of Japan in 1687.


Visitors to the Web site can save the maps for their own collections; analyze, rotate, enlarge and crop them; and compare them with modern maps.

Peter Zhou, the director of the East Asian Library, said the library had long wanted to digitize the map collection but had lacked the money and the expertise to do so. "Because of the complexity of the collection and the value of the collection, we wanted to do it right," he said.

It turned out that the solution was just across the San Francisco Bay. But Mr. Zhou found it circuitously, at a cartographers' conference two years ago in Hong Kong. There he met David Rumsey, an ardent map collector who had digitized and cataloged his private collection of 150,000 maps at

Mr. Rumsey, president of Cartography Associates, a San Francisco-based digital publisher of maps and art for Web distribution, said he had seen the library's map collection and "was tremendously impressed.''

"They say it's the largest collection of Japanese historical cartography outside of Japan,'' he said. "So I volunteered my services."

In 1997, Mr. Rumsey had faced a similar challenge when he decided he wanted to open his collection of 19th- and 20th-century American maps and atlases to a wider audience than the few hundred scholars and cartography buffs who had visited him in San Francisco. "I'd been fairly close with the Library of Congress and their digitization projects, particularly in the maps arena," he said. He wanted a Web site that could produce high-resolution images that would allow viewers to feel as though they had a map in their hands.

"At the time, there were only two choices,'' he said. "One was to develop my own thing, and that was looking like a long road. And the other was when I discovered Luna Imaging."

Luna Imaging, based in Culver City, Calif., is known in the museum and academic worlds for software that converts visual material into high-resolution images that can be manipulated at high speeds for research purposes. Founded in 1993 by Michael Ester, a former director of the Getty Art History Information Program, Luna met Mr. Rumsey's criteria for his Web site so well that he embraced its software and joined the company as a director in 1999.

"There's other software out there that will show an image, but Luna has a very sophisticated and unique approach," Mr. Rumsey said. "It stresses showing you the image. It lets the image breathe. It doesn't surround the image with a lot of text and frames and branding. It lets you compare images side by side and lets you browse visually, by thumbnail or page after page if you wanted. It also has a very sophisticated searching technique."

To capture the best possible image, Mr. Rumsey built his own scanning station, using a digital camera instead of a traditional flatbed scanner to create greater depth of field. The images are scanned at 300 pixels per inch.

Mr. Rumsey's Web site offers several options for viewing. Visitors can download the Insight Java Client, available free at the site. The software enables users to view maps in detail, create and save groups of images, search for specific maps and related images, including those at other Web sites. "It's not just software, it's also a platform that multiple collections can be viewed on," Mr. Rumsey said.

A customized Geographic Information Systems browser developed by Telemorphic, a Web-based mapping developer in Berkeley, can also be downloaded. It allows a user to compare old maps with modern satellite views. If the user, for instance, wants to analyze changes in Tokyo over the years, the G.I.S. browser can overlay one map on top of another, lining them up and even redrawing the old map to correlate with the new one.

The browser provides three-dimensional views and "fly-throughs," like zooming through the canyons of Yosemite National Park in video-game fashion, although that option is currently available only at Mr. Rumsey's Web site. The application can allow four maps to be viewed simultaneously.

"The digital images are even better than the originals because you can amplify them, rotate them to look at them from different angles," Mr. Zhou said. "In practical terms, this is a better way of using the material than actually coming here to see the pieces."

Mr. Rumsey said that the Internet had become a lifeline for libraries in general. "Libraries and museums are going through a very interesting period where they're beginning to make their content available online," he said. "They have to understand software and how it can work for them."

For Youth in Japan, Love Is a Many Segmented Thing  (September 1, 2002) 

ARTS ABROAD; Everyday Items in a Life Allow Lennon Fans to Imagine  (September 12, 2001)  $

In a World Full of Wonders, Here Are Six That Stand Out -- Mount Koya; Peace and Prayers on a Mountain Height  (April 21, 1999)  $

FOOTLIGHTS  (November 4, 1998) 

Find more results for Japan and Museums .

Doing research? Search the archive for more than 500,000 articles:

E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles

Click Here to Receive 50% Off Home Delivery of The New York Times Newspaper.

Home | Back to Technology | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Privacy Policy
E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles

Enlarge This Image

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
The East Asian Library at the University of California at Berkeley sought help from David Rumsey, above, who has digitized his own collection of 150,000 maps.

Subscribe to Circuits
Sign up to receive a free weekly Circuits newsletter by e-mail, with technology news and tips and exclusive commentary by David Pogue, the State of the Art columnist.


Computers and the Internet
Create Your Own | Manage Alerts
Take a Tour
Sign Up for Newsletters

David Rumsey
Maps of Tokyo scanned digitally.

Photo: An early computer, the "mechanical mind" developed at MIT, 1927.

Price: $195. Learn More.

Real Estate
Spotlight on...
Western States
Arizona, Colorado, more...

New Jersey Waterfront
Hoboken, Jersey City, more...

Search Other Areas