This is a formidable volume, both in its imposing bulk and weight but also in the colloquial French sense of formidable, a "fantastic" achievement. It represents over a decade of intensive planning and coordination by editor Nicolas Fiévé, director of studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) in Paris and a specialist in Japanese architectural history, in particular that of Kyoto since the medieval era.
My first recommendation is that anyone with the slightest interest in Kyoto and its history, or in the beauty of finely executed maps, consider purchasing this volume right away. It is available from Amazon in France and England for a price that—even with the addition of overseas shipping to North America or Japan—is a remarkable bargain. The binding is somewhat weak for the weight of the book, but the color printing and design are of the highest quality. (I will confess that I even acquired a second copy, so reasonable is the price, in order to liberate the separate articles and maps from the binding for ease in handling and comparing them. Some of the full-page maps and satellite views, moreover, are worthy of framing.)
The main title, Atlas historique de Kyoto (Historical atlas of Kyoto) suggests a somewhat broader scope than the volume aspires to cover; the subtitle, which translates as "A spatial analysis of the memory systems of a city, its architecture, and its urban landscape," reveals a more focused definition. As the editor carefully explains in the introduction, this is not an atlas of political, economic, or social history (although these dimensions certainly appear in many of the maps), but rather of the history of Kyoto as a city, rooted most of all in the specialties of the history of architecture and city planning, with contributions by historians and geographers, along with "an anthropologist, an archaeologist, and an environmental engineer" (p. 26). The term "memory systems" reflects Fiévé's interest in the notion of "collective memory" first articulated by Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) in the early twentieth century.
This particular focus on memory takes on special resonance at the current point in the long history of Kyoto, with debates continuing to rage about precisely how the physical [End Page 442] form of the city, in particular its architecture and landscape, should serve as carriers of historical memory. These issues of the preservation of Kyoto's architectural and environmental heritage arose in the Meiji period, but have taken on special intensity since the years of the economic bubble in the late 1980s, when rising land values led to a quickening rate of depletion of the older two-story wooden housing stock known as machiya.
Fiévé makes it clear in the structure and content of the atlas that the term "systems" of memory does not refer to artistic or literary representations of the city, which are used throughout as illustrations and for textual citations but are never the primary focus of analysis. The systems on which this volume focuses are rather what Fiévé calls the "material strata of memory," those elements of the urban heritage that "can be observed at the present." For this reason, he explains, an early decision was made not to deal directly with the human practices and relationships that constitute the social, religious, and cultural life of modern Kyoto. Relatively little is to be found, for example, on the transmission and expression of such classical Kyoto arts as textiles (with the exception of a single article on the history of the Nishijin district), tea ceremony, or the many traditional crafts now known collectively as dentō kōgei 伝統工芸, and such major annual events as the Gion Festival are mentioned only incidentally. It was an enormous enough task, Fiévé points out, just to limit matters to the "tangible inscription" of such phenomena, as the atlas itself amply demonstrates.
Before discussing the atlas's organization...