Case Study: Maps of Heian Japan

Custom illustrated maps are a staple of fantasy epics, so it was a joy to be able to create them for Katherine M. Lawrence’s Yamabuki books about a woman samurai in Heian Japan.

The current version of the maps are somewhat geographically accurate. Japan had specific measures of lengths and distances, but for the most part people did not have the tools to accurately survey large masses of land, so common understanding of the sizes and shapes of the islands was based primarily on what they saw and how long it took to travel from one place to the next.

The clans and prefectures indicated in the maps are historically accurate, with a few exceptions to suit the narratives in the book series.

Color hand-drawn map of ancient Japan, with outlines similar to modern-day understanding, illustrated by Laura Lis Scott as designed by Laura Lis Scott.
I hand-drew the maps, based loosely on known geography today.

Previous version

Map of Akitsushima, ancient Japan, illustrated by Laura Scott in 2015 as designed by Laura Lis Scott.
Early version of map of Akitsushima for use in Katherine M. Lawrence’s Sword of the Taka Samurai books. We ended up deciding a more accurate rendering would serve the story better. Illustrated by Laura Lis Scott.

Initially I based the maps off of medieval maps created by European explorers because they reflected a centuries-old understanding of the archipelago’s coastlines and terrain. In the end, however, Katherine and I agreed that this approach left much to be desired.

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