Provincial maps were a common type of cartographic source in the Tokugawa era.
By the 1600s, provinces were an outdated territorial organization. They had been the core of administration when Japan was founded as a centralized imperial state in the 700s. From the 1100s, the imperial family progressively lost power to the samurai elite, and the country was divided into autonomous domains that only vaguely overlapped with provincial divisions.
As they re-unified Japan, the Tokugawa embraced provinces as symbols of political unity and stability, and revitalized their territorial and cultural importance.
Even if the local domains of daimyō didn’t exactly correspond to provinces, they were often used as units for official territorial surveys. Commercial cartography noticed this, and beautiful and colourful provincial maps and atlases were published in great numbers throughout the period.
Provinces were called kuni, a synonym for ‘country'.
Each of them had its own peculiar character, and in the Tokugawa era, they came to be associated to famous speciality products (meibutsu) and travel destinations. In some maps, provinces were grouped to form larger regional unities, indicating tight intra-regional networks and shared cultural traits.