Imaginary cities down to the square inch
March 25, 2018 4:52 AM   Subscribe

A Japanese graphic designer has made it his life’s work to design an improbably realistic and detailed map of a city that doesn’t exist.

Nagomuru City, located in a country called Naira that very closely resembles Japan but isn’t quite the same place, has everything you could want from the city you live in, from house numbers to subways to convenience stores to art colleges to 1970s housing complexes to ancient temples, except the possibly desirable quality of actually existing in three dimensions.

Regrettably the text of the site is all in Japanese and I can’t slap up a full translation here, but Nagomuru’s creator, Imaizumi Takayuki, writes “…That sense of place you savor when you go somewhere: wondering what it is, how it came about, what surrounds the place…figuring that out through mapmaking is what imaginary maps mean to me.” Is Nagomuru a utopia? No, it’s just a city, as real as it can be made. At what address there does he reside? Everywhere there, as he focuses on each given location, and nowhere, as he wanders through the city at will.
The city is created through imagining, imagined through creating, in loving detail.

Imaizumi (a freelance graphic designer/cartographer) has been working on the map since he was ten years old.
The first map, predating this actual city, is from when he was seven or eight and features a train line, the population of various neighboring towns/villages (poor Hase, or possibly Nagatani, Village, which only has 154 people), and the student distribution of a highly rural school with one classroom for students from first through eleventh grades.
Then there are a series of well-colored bus route maps, with stop names betraying a child’s limited knowledge of Japanese characters, as he points out (I feel for the postman who has to deliver to the neighboring 河部、何部、阿部、and 東部), and a contour map, followed by several rather beautiful hand-drawn maps of Nagomuru proper (dated from 1997 on). (The city was named after a school friend called Nakamura, with a twist on the pronunciation to spare the friend’s blushes.) Click on each map for a larger window.

You can see the whole map here, scrolling, in segments, or as a PDF.

Here’s a map of the city as it was in 1978 and here are the contents of some wallets lost in the city: a college student, a businessman, an old lady. If you are one of those weird people who prefer buses to trains, here are some buses and bus routes.

Here is an exquisite bird's-eye view of the city in the 1930s, drawn by Nakata Takumi.

There have been several art exhibits in Japan featuring Nagomuru City, and Imaizumi has published a book about it, including discussion of cartography both real and imaginary.

(This page provides links to other people’s imaginary city maps, in varying levels of detail; click on the maps or links to jump. Most are in Japanese, but there are also a couple of links to English-language imaginary maps: Jerry Gretzinger’s vast and mysterious fantasia (previously) and stadtkreation, the latter sadly a dead link at the moment although it worked up until quite recently. While Imaizumi doesn’t link to it, maybe also take a look at the related Google-maps style world full of lots of people’s different fictional maps here (previously). I looked hard for anything in English about Nagomuru City itself and couldn’t find anything; thanks taz for letting me know, with mod hat on, that this awkwardly explanatory style of post would be acceptable for, um, my first FPP.)
posted by huimangm (14 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of extra opinions of my own in a separate comment: one thing I find both fascinating and frustrating about this gorgeous map is that, like the joke goes, it has so much geography and so little history. While one or two older maps are there as noted in the post, the few historical notes are things that seem like direct reflections from modern Japan: the old military ground that’s now a stadium, the economic/population boom in the 1960s and 1970s that led to lots of middle-class suburban tenements being constructed. I keep wondering about this country’s history of colonialism and war, if indeed it has one, and about whether it has an immigrant population and/or an indigenous one, if the city has “untouchable caste” districts like the hisabetsu buraku in real Japan. What about religion—it has shrines and temples, but a casual look through the map doesn’t produce any churches or, more common in Japanese cities, schools founded by Catholic/Anglican missionaries? Japanese seems to be the language of choice, but do the people there actually speak Japanese we would recognize or do they have a unique dialect, and if so are there other dialects throughout the rest of the country?...And so on.
Imaizumi has a note on his site saying he welcomes transformative works related to the map, but I feel like the city already has its own history and me making it up would be wrong…
posted by huimangm at 4:54 AM on March 25, 2018 [13 favorites]

Sounds a lot like what Tolkien did for England, only for Japan and with cartography instead of mythology. I do love a good obsessively-detailed worldbuilding exercise. It takes a lot of work (a lot) to create that sense of verisimilitude that allows the viewer or reader to feel the visceral reality of the maker's fictional creation. Or subcreation, as Tolkien would have put it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:20 AM on March 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

And what a first FPP it was. Thanks!
posted by Prince Lazy I at 5:37 AM on March 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

That first link might be neat IF I COULD SPEAK JAPANESE
posted by unliteral at 6:02 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just wonder if he has a full set of zoning documents governing where he decides to put different types of businesses or uses. Are there any uses that are "grandfathered" in once the zoning changes?
posted by LionIndex at 7:15 AM on March 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This feels like something pulled from a China Miéville novel. This is not a complaint.
posted by Fizz at 7:29 AM on March 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Ah, what a perfect post to share "On Exactitude in Science" (Spanish title: "Del rigor en la ciencia"), the one-paragraph short story by Jorge Luis Borges:

"... In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography."

And an excerpt from Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll:

"What a useful thing a pocket-map is!" I remarked.
"That's another thing we've learned from your Nation," said Mein Herr, "map-making. But we've carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?"
"About six inches to the mile."
"Only six inches!" exclaimed Mein Herr. "We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all ! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"
"Have you used it much?" I enquired.
"It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."

posted by Skygazer at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

There's something liberating and deeply satisfying about scrolling through these imaginary maps, like this one. Not sure why...
posted by Skygazer at 8:43 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

My father and the father of writer Bill Vollmann were colleagues, and so I met Bill a couple of times when we were kids. He's a few years older than I am. The one time we really ended up hanging out, gosh, sometime in the late 1970s, I think, he told me that he was going to be a writer, and that he was going to outdo Tolkien. On the wall of his bedroom was an enormous, multisheet map of an imaginary continent which he had drawn. He told me that that point in time he was still engaged in developing the backstory for this place, its' history and mythology and how the two things intertwined and affected one another.

Over time, I beleive the germ of this idea became the basis for his Seven Dreams project, in which he has completed and published five of the books, all concerning the encounters and interactions between Native American and European-descended cultures in North America (and possibly Oceania, although that book's not yet out).

I haven't talked to him in years and years. I wonder how much of my recollection is correct.
posted by mwhybark at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

I love this.

Nearly early 25 years ago I landed in Himeji, Japan, part of a wave of Westerners who arrived fresh out of college to teach English with neither experience nor any ability to speak Japanese. This map fills me with the same warm sense of wonder as the map of Himeji I bought upon arrival did back then, in all its untranslated promise of newness and discovery and not just a new written language but a new design language as well. Though imaginary, this feels as real as that map of Himeji once did.
posted by bassomatic at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

The earth is round and flat at the same time. This is obvious. That is it round appears indisputable; that it is flat is our common experience, also indisputable. The globe does not supersede the map; the map does not distort the globe.

Maps are magic. In the bottom corner are whales; at the top, cormorants carrying pop-eyed fish. In between is a subjective account of the lie of the land. Rough shapes of countries that may or may not exist, broken red lines marking paths that are at best hazardous, at worst already gone. Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increase. But is knowledge increasing or is detail accumulating?

A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true.

And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and putting up flags and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done.

Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else has charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections only obvious to you. Round and flat, only a very little has been discovered.
Jeanette Winterson, "The Flat Earth Theory", Sexing the Cherry
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is fascinating, thanks for posting this!
posted by carter at 4:48 AM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Really excellent first FPP, congratulations on a job well done.

The layout is vaguely reminiscent of Kumamoto, where the main railway station is quite a way from the main part of the city. I don't really understand what the thinking behind the two subway lines though. The interchange station seems to be mostly for the benefit of a couple of parks. Perhaps the service frequency is low.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

This makes me want to build it in Cities: Skylines, although I've never even played the game.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

« Older 'Our moms weren't happy'   |   Mr. Records Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments