Everything You Need to Know About Reading Japanese Maps and their Marks

Read a map like a boss.

Photo Pixabay


When you use paper or
digital maps in Japan, you might encounter some unfamiliar marks on the map. This unfamiliarity then causes you confusion and somehow, you end up feeling lost. Here, we will introduce two versions of marks found on Japanese maps, the traditional one and the new one.


The traditional one is used in maps for the Japanese. People are taught with basic marks and their meanings during elementary school. However, some marks are quite unique and is hard to be understood by foreigners at first glance.


Therefore, in 2016, the
Geospatial Information Authority of Japan announced the introduction of 16 new marks for foreigners.


Here is the list showing common traditional marks and their origin. To compare, the new marks are provided as well if there is one.

Type of Building

Traditional

New

Municipal Office

None

Town Office

None

School


If you are learning
kanji, you might remember the letter “?”. It symbolizes the place for learning.

None

Fire Station


This Y-like symbol comes from the tool used to extinguish a fire in old times.

None

Police Station


It comes from the 2 crossing
nightsticks.

Hospital

Post Office


It comes from the Japanse postal code mark “?”.

Bank


It comes from the shape of weight used with the scale, which is used by the money change in the old times.

None

Shrine


It comes from the shape of
torii gate at the entrance of shrine.

Temple


It comes from the Buddhism symbol in
Sanskrit

None


Created by Karaksa Media Partner based on information released by
Geospatial Information Authority of Japan 


These are the other 12 new marks.


Airport


Station


Hotel


Tourist information


Restaurant


Bathroom


Convenience store


Shopping center, department store


Onsen


Museum, art museum


Church


There are actually more traditional marks so if you are interested, why don’t you explore Japanese cities with a Japanese map? After reading this, you’ll be able to decipher it in no time!


 (15 October 2019)

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