Japanese maps and navi(gation) the good and the bad parts about map-loving Japan
An unadmitted fact of Japan is that quick access maps supposedly
made to pinpoint some location and guide you to it... are more
or less useless, unless you know the neighborhood you're heading
to. It's an interesting thing because nearly all facilities have
such graphics prepared in one way or another, people like to draw
such maps for others to help them, it would seem to be reasonable
to think that this tradition has grown into something more refined
than a sketching technique, but in fact it didn't. With real maps
being world class in detail and ease of use... and mobile and
satellite based navigational systems so refined you could walk
through the city with your eyes closed... all this may wind up
to be quite an enigma for those not used to it.
Why not to rely on quick access maps too heavily ?
The fact seems to be originating from the following two facts
- Japanese access maps basically disregard the traditions that
have set where north usually is on a map. Not just it's never
at the top, but you won't always be able to tell where it is or
actually should be. At best you'll have a little arrow pointing
to a random direction to indicate it, but that's quite an uncommon
- Japanese access maps are symbolized based on visible landmarks
and other checkpoints that the people approaching to them can
relate to. Which is great for they're quite easy to find and understand...
given the proper circumstances. Well this leads to two other facts,
which are that because of this, distance is symbolized as well,
and that if you're not approaching from either of the recommended
directions ( let's say the nearest station ) these maps are more
or less useless.
We recommend you to get your maps
from the Dekkaji Mappu series - around 1,200 yen each
here for a printable reference )
This isn't just a problem for visitors, not even Japanese can
tell. It's a fun tradition to get lost while exploring your surroundings
in circles... but in case you'd like to make the most of your
time, do the following :
- Get a city map.
When paired up, quick access maps and city maps work like wonder.
Great maps of Japan, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and all the major cities
are available in the forms both booklets and foldable sheets.
Though we recommend the first type over the second. Updated every
year or so, they not only include all - and by this it really
means all - landmarks, sights, building- , street- , district-
, area- , hospital-, school-, and other facility names... but
also serve as a city guide by themselves. A well visible icon
and color system shows all shops, restaurants, theaters, parks,
gardens, train and bus lines, their stops, shrines, temples, building
and station entrances (!), exits, and all the information you
would ever need. Surprisingly enough official maps are probably
the most reliable and well detailed in the world. With quick access
codes for keitai ( mobile-phone ) based navigating systems you
have to be really clumsy to get lost. All downtown's are enlarged
to an even higher detail in separate pages, and in case you wondered,
major cities have their maps sold in a bilingual version, meaning
you can see both the Japanese and the English ( or at least romanized
) names of places and transportation lines. Getting such a map
shouldn't cost too much over a thousand yen and will prove to
be an irreplaceable helper in case you don't have any mobile positioning
systems on you. They're sold in every book, magazine and station
- Optionally, get a mobile navigation system with your phone
( most often dubbed as NAVI )
this one is from Ameya Yokocho, Ueno
Or just a keitai phone with access to one of the many navigation
software like Raku Navi that will guide you through the city in
real-time to any location you enter, locating where you are at
the moment when checking the system. Yes, actually this is the
ideal option but it's unlikely that people who are visiting Japan
will go through the hassle of obtaining and learn the use of one.
If you're up to this task you could turn to KDDI
for example. The mobile phone provider has a broad lineup of phones
that (can) have navi functionality with many special features
such as EZ navi, and Safe Navi, a system that would alert another
subscriber when the user enters or leaves a designated service
offers i-mode with lots of navigation related features as
well ( which include anything from weather forecasts to finding
restaurants or regional traffic reports ).
- Get a compass.
No, not kidding. Get a compass. There are an awful lot of times
when you won't see the sun while trying to navigate... better
yet, when it's night the scenery in the cities will go through
a change you have to experience to believe. With all the light
transferring downtown's into a different world, you'll need to
learn two sets of landmarks to guide you by... unless you know
where that "up" on the map is on the street. Be warned
that they will likely go crazy near train tracks...
Getting lost in the cities applies only to those who don't know
the area, don't have a real map ( optionally with a compass )
or a mobile phone with them... are too afraid to ask someone,
don't speak neither Japanese nor English... and are unconfident
of their body language skills ( Japanese are quite confident,
you can rely on them with this ). The rest should rest assured...
they won't get lost... perhaps take bigger circles but will always
know where they are.