Woman’s experience being lost in Tokyo station spawned mapmaking business

Kyodo

The idea for Navit Co. was born out of its president’s own experience of getting stuck in the labyrinth of a Tokyo subway station. The station map maker is now looking to expand its services nationwide, capitalizing on its data-gathering know-how.

The Tokyo-based company makes railway route maps as well as graphics of station and airport layouts. The subway car ride-spot guide posters were Navit’s product that first grabbed the attention of many passengers.

The posters are designed to help train riders find the quickest way out of the station after they get off a train. They show the best car of the train to ride on to get off at the spot closest to the exit of each station.

Yasuyo Fukui, president of Navit, launched the business, making use of her own frustration one day of wasting time walking around a station with her child to find the elevator and the exit.

“When you think you are in trouble, that is a business opportunity,” Fukui said.

After that experience, she started looking into subway stations in Tokyo on weekends and spent five months gathering information about the locations of elevators, exits and other facilities of all 256 subway stations in the metropolitan area at the time.

She pitched the idea of publishing a book of station maps using the data and layouts she collected to more than 70 publishing houses, but most showed little interest.

However, in 1998, Tokyo Metro Co. started using Fukui’s data to make the posters, posting them in stations on the Ginza Line.

Navit initially collected information mostly through students who love trains. But now the firm’s 58,000 data collectors are mainly homemakers, as the scope of information needed for its business is widening.

The company is now working on 3-D spatial maps of stations and airports, with information on the openings and closures of restaurants and supermarkets.

“Databases are becoming more important, as they serve as a basis of technology needed in the future for the analysis of big data and AI development,” Fukui said.