Japan updates map symbols to help foreigners find their way

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Interesting news from Japan. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) has released a set of new standard symbols for foreign-language maps in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“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. For that purpose, it is especially important to disseminate multilingual maps that are easy for foreigners to understand” said a GSI report on new map guidelines.

Many symbols have different meaning (or no meaning) in various cultures. Some of traditional Japanese symbols were perceived as difficult to understand or even offensive. The most notorious of these is the swastika-like symbol for a temple. The X symbol for police might be also quite difficult to understand for the majority of foreigners in Japan.

GSI conducted a survey among about 1,000 people including embassy officials, foreign students and tourists on the streets. Based on questionnaire results they’ve decided to change the most common map symbols. The pictograms cover the places and services the GSI believes are most important to foreign visitors like hotels, toilets, convenience stores, police stations and hospitals. The symbols will be officially adopted by the end of March, after a period in which members of the public can comment.

Aleks Buczkowski
I'm a professional always thinking outside the box and a self-confessed gadget addict. As a son of a professor of cartography I was surrounded by maps all my life and as a result spatial way of thinking and seeing reality is naturally embedded in who I am.