Latest News

Wednesday, 20th January 2016
In Japan Travel News,

Debate rages on changing symbols on Japanese tourism maps

A proposal has been put forward to drop six traditional symbols on tourist maps in Japan in favour of alternative designs.

If it goes ahead, the plans outlined by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) could see alternative images used to designate places of interest.

The most controversial symbol that is up for debate is the swastika, which is used to show where temples can be found.

While best known to much of the Western world as a mark of Nazism, the motif goes back much further and is associated with Buddhism.

More than 1,000 tourists, foreign students and embassy officials were surveyed by the GSI in order to interpret opinion on whether the symbol should stay.

An idea has been floated to introduce a simplified three-tiered pagoda motif instead, but some believe that this goes against tradition and it is only a matter of educating visitors on the real meaning of the swastika.

The BBC reported one Twitter user, Fei Explorer, writing: "So if terrorists hang up the Union Jack, does this mean the UK should change its flag? Or the USA or Australia?"

The swastika is an ancient Sanskrit symbol and although it was utilised by the Nazi Party has long been associated with Buddhism and Japanese culture.

It is pronounced manji in Japanese and is not something the local population would be confused about, but there is a possibility for unease in tourists.

Another social media user, Konosaki Lem, said: "It's said some would mistake the manji for the Nazi symbol, but Buddhism has a much longer history with this symbol. So I strongly oppose changing our maps for some foreigners who are ignorant and extremely stupid. The idea is foolish."

Takayuki Nakamura, executive officer for national mapping at GSI, acknowledged that there were people coming down on either side of the debate.

He added that it would be a while before a final decision was made, as related government agencies would also need to weigh in on the discussion.

Among the other symbols up for debate is that which denotes hotel, as the current option of a large capital H inside a circle can easily be mistaken for a helipad. It is set to be replaced by a figure in a bed.

The simple cross that at the moment denotes a church will be placed on top of a building to differentiate it from a cemetery.

Hospitals are currently represented by a shield-like emblem with a cross in the middle, but will be changed to represent a larger building with the cross still contained inside.

The symbol for a post office has long been based on a 19th century Japanese term for communication that has not been obvious to those from outside of the country.

Changing from this to the standard depiction of a letter is unlikely to find much controversy and be far more self-explanatory to tourists.

A saluting policeman will be put in place instead of a large X that was said to represent two batons crossed over each other.

The rest of the symbols found on tourist maps are due to stay the same, despite the fact that some people have suggested they could cause confusion.

It has been stated that the symbol for onsen or hot springs, which are found throughout Japan, actually looks like a bowl of hot miso soup, but visitors will just have to learn to recognise the difference.