Manuscript Watercolour Map
Japanese Samurai Horse Breeding Grounds
Ashinazawa – Morioka
With Ou Mountain Range in Relief

Signed by a Samurai
And Three Officials

Japan, Kaei 7 [1854]. Large manuscript watercoloured map to illustrate the village of Ashinazawa Tamayamababa and its environs (in present-day Morioka, Iwate Prefecture), showing lands used by samurai of the ruling Nanbu Clan for raising and breeding horses, also highlighting three mountains in relief by way of tipped-in folding cutouts. Place names and text is in Japanese. Signed in manuscript by a Samurai named Sakura Baba, as well as three other notable officials. Map measures approximately 135 x 82 cm. Some creasing, otherwise in very good condition, a very unique manuscript painted map from the feudal Morioka Domain.

The village shown is Ashinazawa Tamayamababa, situated within 30 km from Morioka, which was then the ****JAPANESE TEXT *** Morioka Domain (Morioka-han), a tozama feudal domain of Edo period, under the rule of the ****JAPANESE TEXT *** Nanbu Clan (Nanbu-shi) of samurai whose territory spanned most of northeastern Honshu in the Tohoku region. [Today, Morioka (Morioka-shi) is the capital city of Iwate Prefecture located in the Tohoku region of northern Japan. Ashinazawa is considered part of the Morioka district.]Ashinazawa Tamayamababa is also near, only 90 km, from Kakunodate (in present-day Akita Prefecture), also a former castle town and samurai stronghold. While Kakunodate Castle no longer remains, the town is famous for its samurai tradition and its hundreds of weeping cherry trees (shidarezakura). Apart from the loss of its castle, Kakunodate remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620. The town was built with two distinct areas, the samurai district and the merchant district. Once home to 80 families, the samurai district still has some of the best examples of samurai architecture in all of Japan.Among the hills and near the village, some rather expansive horse-breeding fields are drawn on the map, presumably belonging to or at least managed by the Nanbu-shi samurai who signed the document. The horses would have been used by samurai warriors for military equestrianism, including bajutsu (a distinct form of martial art), for yabusame (mounted archery), and other practices of skilled battle on horse-back.Three mountains illustrated two-dimentionally, are all stratovolcanos forming part of the Ou Mountain range in the Tohoku region of northern Honshu. They appear to be illustrating Mount Iwate – the active volcano situated only 22 km from Ashinazawa, Mount Hachimantai – the highest peak in the Ou Mountains and only 46 km from Ashinazawa, and the active stratovolcano Akita-Komagatake located some 70 km from Ashinazawa.In red paint, several roadways are delineated, one of them reaching and following the summit line of one of the mountains. At the head of one of these roads, is a drawing of a cherry blossom trees, and an inscription which likely reads ‘sakura’, the term for of a group of cherry blossom trees, collectively.The flow of the Kakkonda and Shizukuishi rivers into the Kitakami is traced from the hills. In the distance, on the opposite side of the mountain ranges, a larger river is drawn, depicting the wider Tama River, which would eventually lead to Lake Tazawa.The Akita-Komagatake region is exceptionally lush, with several hundred species of alpine flora and would surely be an excellent place for horses to graze. Mount Hachimantai is especially characterized with hot springs, possibly being used as a source of warm water for cleaning or healing. In general, the vast region would be superb as a horse breeding ground. [Not far from Morioka, located in the midpoint between the inland and coastal areas of Iwate, is Tono, which today is famous or breeding horses for use in agriculture. Formerly, many agriculturalists were involved in horse breeding and even treated their horses with the same affection as family members, a tradition which survives to this day.]
Incidentally, this map is of interest to Korean Drama fans, as it is just north of the filming location of the popular South Korean espionage television drama series, “Iris”, starring Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-hee, near Lake Tazawa.
Mountains shown in relief:
Looking from the west side of the Ou mountains.
Mountains shown in relief:
Region between Ashinazawa and the Ou mountains used for horsebreeding.
North-South view:

Horsemanship was an important duty and respected skill of the samurai. There were two classes of Samurai, and only upper-class samurai were allowed horses, although the lower class samurai who could find a way to possess their own horse, did so, with the belief that every samurai should have the honour and the benefit. Being on horse-back aided in part to best perform archery, spearmanship, and swordsmanship in battle.The horses ridden by the samurai were mostly the sturdy Kisouma, native horses that resembled stocky ponies rather than modern-day thoroughbreds. They were stub faced, long haired, short legged, shaggy looking creatures, their backs averaging about 120 to 140cm in height. Samurai mounted their horses not from the left, like modern equestrians, but from the right side of their steeds. [Recent tests were conducted to compare the abilities of the short-legged, heavy-set, shaggy-haired native Kisouma, and the modern bred horse, and found that the pony-like Kisouma was faster and more agile than expected.]According to the records left by 16th century Portuguese missionary Luis Frois, the Japanese rode their horses to the battle, dismounted, and fought on foot. Frois had only seen samurai from the Kansai (western Japan) regions fight. It was true, the Kansai samurai dismounted their horses then continued to fight on foot, however the Kanto (East and North Japan) samurai did in fact, fight from horseback.Horse-mounted samurai often fought by charging their horses at their opponent, in some cases causing a collision that would unbalance or even injure the other’s steed. In many instances the horses were the first attacked in a charge rather than the mounted samurai, particularly when it came to a charge against a row of spear-wielding, bow, or matchlock armed troops. They would first shoot at or spear the horse, which would in turn bring down the warrior too. Horses were valuable to samurai warriors, and whenever possible in battle, they would be captured alive to enhance the stables of the victor.Various techniques were developed for fighting against other horse-mounted samurai. Tools included pole arms, swords, clubs, and even hand-to-hand methods. For sword fighting, offensive approaches included positioning oneself to the left side of one’s opponent. This was an obvious advantage when fighting on horseback, as it meant the average right-handed swordsman would be an easier kill, finding it more difficult to avoid blows. Other charges against horsemen would include spear jousting or grappling techniques almost akin to judo on horseback. In the early Edo period, the western samurai were not sure how exactly to fight against the horse-mounted eastern and northern samurai, giving the latter a psychological and military advantage. Often the latter would quickly approach the enemy and cut them down before any defensive or counter attack could be performed.Incidentally, there are only about 120 pure Kisouma remaining in Japan. The strong, sturdy animals were used by Japan’s military in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and many of the animals were left behind in Korea and China upon the end of the war.
Other close-up views showing village, horse-breeding grounds, roadways, rivers and text:Cherry blossom trees:In the image below, the tipped-in relief mountains are laid flat for storage:This is a large map measuring approximately 135 x 82 cm.

The Nanbu clan were confirmed as daimyo of Morioka Domain under the Edo-period Tokugawa shogunate, in July 1590 by way of an oath of fealty to Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the Siege of Odawara. However, Hideyoshi also recognised the independence of the Tsugaru clan, former Nanbu retainers, and their control over the three districts of Tsugaru Peninsula, but gave the Nanbu clan the additional districts of Hienuki and Waga as compensation. Nanbu Nobunao relocated his seat from Sannohe Castle to the more central location of Morioka, and began work on Morioka Castle and its surrounding castle town in 1592. The domain was in constant conflict with neighboring Hirosaki Domain, whose ruling Tsugaru clan were once Nanbu retainers. In 1821, only 33 years before the present map was painted, longstanding tensions between the Nanbu and Tsugaru erupted into the Soma Daisaku Incident – a foiled plot by Soma Daisaku, a former retainer of the Nanbu clan, to assassinate the Tsugaru lord.In this same year the 11th daimyo, Nanbu Toshimochi, died at the age of 13 before he could be formally received in audience by shogun Tokugawa Ienari. Fearing that this could be used by the shogunate as a cause for an attainder (forfeiture of land and civil rights), the domain leaders substituted a cousin of similar age and appearance to take his place. The Nanbu clan’s territories were also among those effected by the Tenpo famine of the mid-1830s. In 1840, a han school was established, and began promoting studies in rangaku (western science), especially western medicine. In spite of the clan conflicts and other major setbacks, the Nanbu clan retained its holdings for the entire Edo period, surviving until the Meiji Restoration.During the Boshin War of 1868-69, the Nanbu clan fought on the side of the Ouetsu Reppan Domei, supporting the Tokugawa regime. After Meiji Restoration, the Nanbu clan had much of its land confiscated, and in 1871, the heads of its branches were relieved of office. In the Meiji period, the former daimyo became part of the kazoku peerage, with Nanbu Toshiyuki receiving the title of hakushaku (Count). The main Nanbu line survives to the present day; Toshiaki Nanbu served as the chief priest of Yasukuni Shrine.

Mount Hachimantai is the highest peak of a group of stratovolcanos in the Ou mountains. This volcanic plateau straddles the border between the Iwate Prefecture and Akita Prefecture. The Hachimantai plateau is located approximately 18 kilometres northeast of Lake Tazawa, within the present-day borders of the city of Hachimantai, Iwate, and village of Kazuno, Akita.Mount Iwate, often referred to as the “Nanbu Fuji”, is also is a stratovolcano complex in the Ou Mountains of the western Iwate Prefecture, in the Tohoku region of northern Honshu. With an elevation of 2,038 metres, it is the highest in Iwate Prefecture.Mount Akita-Komagatake, an active stratovolcano located 10 km east of Tazawa Lake, near the border between Akita and Iwate prefectures, is the collective name for three peaks in the Ou mountain range in southern Akita Prefecture, comprising Mount Onamedake (the highest peak at 1,637 meters), Mount Odake and Mount Medake.

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