I am looking at a Japanese map of the early 19th century. It contains a printed comment that I am trying to find translation for. It does not seem to be modern Japanese so I am wondering what kind of (outdated?) Japanese this is. (See Image)

map comment

  • 4
    I'm just guessing, but isn't this Chinese?
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 16, 2014 at 1:51
  • 4
    @Kaji Two such letters pre-dating 762 were discovered in Shōsōin. They are known as 正倉院万葉仮名文書 (monjo) and are written entirely in man'yōgana. You can find a copy of them in 寧楽遺文 (Nara Ibun).
    – Dono
    Apr 16, 2014 at 2:33
  • 2
    The full map is available here. The text of the question is in the upper left corner. I'm guessing this is Classical Chinese, which may well be intended for a Japanese audience. There is a text written in 漢文 in the lower right corner.
    – Earthliŋ
    Apr 16, 2014 at 11:03
  • 4
    It's 漢文. Most of the content conforms to Classical Chinese grammars, although it's a little stilted. There is no 万葉仮名 or Japanese verbs.
    – Yang Muye
    Apr 16, 2014 at 23:46
  • 2
    Yes it's 漢文, not pure Chinese, written in 1842 of the late Edo period (天保壬寅 in the upper left corner stands for AD 1842). Only samurai, academic or noble Japanese family was able to read this kind of text in those days. Today, Japanese high school students learn very basics of this kind of writings (for entrance exams). I can only just see this text describes by whom and when this map was created and how difficult it was. This site has good explanation seiwatei.net/kanbun/index.cgi
    – naruto
    Apr 17, 2014 at 3:07

1 Answer 1


This is 漢文{かんぶん}, a mimicked Classical Chinese. Now few Japanese can write in this style. However, this style is still taught in high schools in Japan. In the mandatory classes, the students do not learn the Chinese pronunciation. Instead, they pronounce the 漢文{かんぶん} sentences as Japanese sentences. They shuffle the characters, put Japanese words besides the Chinese characters and fill in additional カタカナ in order to turn a Classical Chinese sentence into a Japanese sentence. The first two sentences in the image would be read 本邦{ほんぽう}ノ輿地{よち}ノ圖{ず}。其{そ}ノ起{おこ}リ蓋{けだ}シ中古{ちゅうこ}ニ在{あ}ル歟{か}。 Notice that the position of moved in the second sentence. These shuffling techniques are called 訓読{くんどく}. The writing style 漢文{かんぶん} and the reading technique 訓読{くんどく} have been present for at least 1,300 years.

This 漢文{かんぶん} style is different from 万葉仮名{まんようがな}。 漢文{かんぶん} tries to follow the Classical Chinese grammar. In the 万葉仮名{まんようがな} style, no serious efforts are made to follow the Classical Chinese grammar. 万葉仮名{まんようがな} is a liberal technique to use the pronunciation of Chinese characters for denoting Japanese pronunciation. However, in the 万葉仮名{まんようがな} technique, there are no efforts made into following the Classical Chinese grammar.

  • 1
    If you're interested in learning how to read texts like these and don't speak Japanese natively, I would recommend ignoring (at the start) all 訓読 practices, because the grammar of Classical Chinese is more similar to English than to Japanese. Also, the character in the first sentence is seems to be a variant of 圗/圖/図, not 國.
    – HAL
    Apr 18, 2014 at 9:41
  • 1
    Thanks for pointing out my error. 圖 makes much more sense here (I edited my answer accordingly).
    – yhirai
    Apr 19, 2014 at 13:21

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