Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Fri January 22 2016

Japan Changes Confusing Map Symbols for Tourists

Destination & Tourism | Donald Wood | January 22, 2016

Japan Changes Confusing Map Symbols for Tourists

Photo by James Ruggia

In response to recent criticism, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) has released a new set of standard symbols for foreign-language maps.

According to Tomoko Otake of the Japan Times, the criticism stems from the fact that several of the previous pictograms were offensive or hard to understand. For example, the old symbols included a swastika-like image representing a temple and a large “X” indicating a police box.

The new symbols will be officially adopted by the end of March—including a pagoda to represent temples and a saluting officer for police box—and were chosen by a survey that asked the opinions of 1,017 people from 92 countries and regions.

The adopted set of 18 symbols features six replacement, four existing and eight completely new pictograms, including images representing convenience stores, tourist information and more. The symbols will only be found on non-Japanese maps, though.

GSI released a statement about the symbol changes, saying, “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.”

Takayuki Nakamura, GSI executive officer, also released a statement, saying, “Japanese users are divided in their opinions on the new symbols. 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.”

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