Japan revamps map symbols that baffle tourists

by

Staff Writer

The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) has released a set of new standard symbols for foreign-language maps after criticism that some of its current pictograms are hard to understand or are even offensive.

The most notorious of these is the swastika-like symbol for a temple. Likewise, a big X leaves some non-Japanese scratching their heads: It denotes a police box.

“To build a tourism-oriented nation and ensure smooth implementation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan needs to create an environment where foreign visitors can easily get transport and accommodations,” the GSI said in a report on new map guidelines released last week. “For that purpose, it is especially important to disseminate multilingual maps that are easy for foreigners to understand.”

In coming up with the set of 18 symbols, the national surveying and mapping agency convened a panel of experts and polled 1,017 people from 92 countries and regions, including embassy officials, foreign students and tourists on the streets.

The pictograms cover the places and services the GSI believes are most important to foreign visitors. They will be officially adopted by the end of March, after a period in which members of the public can comment.

Of the 18, six will replace existing symbols, including that for a temple, which will become an image of a three-story pagoda. Police boxes will be denoted by a saluting officer.

Four pictograms will remain unchanged, including the one for hot springs, despite complaints by some respondents that it looks like a soup dish.

The remaining eight are new and include symbols for convenience stores and tourist information centers. These currently are not used on Japanese maps, but the GSI determined they will be helpful to foreign users, said Takayuki Nakamura, the organization’s executive officer for national mapping.

Nakamura said the new symbols will only be used on non-Japanese maps for now. Whether to introduce them on Japanese maps will be discussed at some point in the future.

“Japanese users are divided in their opinions on the new symbols,” Nakamura said. “Some say we should change symbols for Japanese-language maps at this opportunity, while others say the traditional symbols should stay. Either way, it will take a while before any changes are made, as we need to coordinate with related government agencies.”

  • kiros

    The symbol used to mark Buddhist temples was the Svastika used in three ancient established religions long before it was appropriated by the Nazi’s as the Swastica. Anyone who is offended by it should learn more about the history of where the symbol comes from. This is really sad because foreign tourists will miss out on the chance to learn about the history of this religious symbol and it was in fact a symbol of peace before it was bastardized as a symbol of genocide.
    Besides, tourists will see the svastika symbols chiseled and carved all around the temples when they arrive there. Then how will they be censored?

  • GBR48

    There was nothing wrong with the svastika. After a moment of adjustment, tourists soon twig. It’s not like dozens of Nazi-hunters were heading to Japan after checking out Google maps, which will most likely continue to use the symbol for the whole of Asia. I agree with Kiros.

    A pagoda is a specific tourist destination, so its not advisable to use it for every shrine.

    I would love to know how much sake was imbibed before the decision was made to use ‘a big X’ for a police box. And how many pirates turned up at kobans carrying spades.

  • Philosopher

    I am a resident of Tokyo and have been for five years but I didn’t know that police stations are represented by big Xs. Clearly, that’s not a very good symbol.
    The Swastika has a 12,000 year history so on one hand, removing from non-Japanese maps here won’t remove it from the world. On the other hand, keeping it could help re-claim after the Nazi’s misuse of it. Also, like Kiros said below, it could also encourage tourists learn a little of that history. Not the whole 12,000 years perhaps. I was told that the Nazis used the anti-clockwise swastika presumably because they’re evil while the Buddhists used the clockwise because they’re not evil. Does anyone else know better?
    What I’d really love to see on Japanese maps is which north is and a scale. Knowing something is down the second street on the left is great but knowing that it’s 200 meters away instead of 2000 would really help, too.

  • JustSomeGuy

    Not bothered by it at all. Like the comments below mentioning the history of the Svastika, it is good to find out behind it, the history of it instead of being butthurt about it.

  • Osaka Ali

    Next stop, Holocaust-denial laws throughout Asia. Zio-nuts never quit.

  • Osaka Ali

    Lemme guess who complained about the hakenkrueze, uh, I mean, manji. Which ethnic terrorist group could it be? Hmmmm …

  • Ralph Mosenez

    No need to change the swastika. It is a good opportunity to educate tourists on the meaning. Tourists travel to different countries to see culture and experience new things. The swastika used as a symbol for temples is a legitimate part of Japanese culture and history. Far older than any association with the Nazis. Not to mention that the majority of tourists to Japan come from Asia, countries where the symbol continues to be used and is associated with Buddhism and other religions in the region.

    No need to change.

  • Ralph Mosenez

    No need to change the swastika. It is a good opportunity to educate tourists on the meaning. Tourists travel to different countries to see culture and experience new things. The swastika used as a symbol for temples is a legitimate part of Japanese culture and history. Far older than any association with the Nazis. Not to mention that the majority of tourists to Japan come from Asia, countries where the symbol continues to be used and is associated with Buddhism and other religions in the region.

    No need to change.

  • Ralph Mosenez

    Most Asian tourists, the majority who visit Japan, aren’t confused by it. Even westerners who go to Japan quickly learn its meaning and any confusion is quickly removed. Very few are bothered by it, even if it causes a few moments of confusion.

    Better to keep the symbol and provide a brief explanation on tourist maps for westerners.

  • Com3755

    Lmao only liberal Western people would be butthurt by this.
    I am European but sane-minded and dont care one bit. Why should foreigners decide on a local cultural issue?
    All I can say to Japan is: Welcome to the world of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
    We Westerners have been living in this hell for too long!

  • Com3755

    Lmao only liberal Western people would be butthurt by this.
    I am European but sane-minded and dont care one bit. Why should foreigners decide on a local cultural issue?
    All I can say to Japan is: Welcome to the world of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
    We Westerners have been living in this hell for too long!

  • RossBaquir

    Replacing the Svastika symbol is not censorship, it’s more about having a map that actually tells people where things are, instead of some cryptic symbols that make no sense outside of the people who are already familiar with it. A map that needs outside explanations isn’t an effective map. The svastika symbol is all over temples and lanterns already, so if people happen to go to one, they can get their culture/history lesson there, or they can read about it in a pamphlet.

  • RossBaquir

    Replacing the Svastika symbol is not censorship, it’s more about having a map that actually tells people where things are, instead of some cryptic symbols that make no sense outside of the people who are already familiar with it. A map that needs outside explanations isn’t an effective map. The svastika symbol is all over temples and lanterns already, so if people happen to go to one, they can get their culture/history lesson there, or they can read about it in a pamphlet.