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Goin’ Japanesque!

23 Japanese Map Symbols to Know and New Ones for Foreigners

As we wait for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the GSI (Geospatial Information Authority of Japan) has created new map symbols for international tourists visiting Japan. This is the first time for this to happen in Japan’s long history. The spurring force behind this, in addition to being more user-friendly for the increasing number of visitors to Japan, is the similarity of the 卍 temple symbol to the Nazi symbol.

The reaction to this announcement overseas, to clarify for the avoidance of doubt, is not to “change” the map symbols but “add”. In short, keep the current symbols so the Japanese will understand, but also add the new symbols on maps intended for international tourists so that it is easier for non-Japanese to decipher.

In this article, we’ve brought together both the new map symbols along with traditional symbols that are good to know for traveling or living in Japan. We hope you’ll use them as a reference.


Part of Planned Update to Map Symbols

*Left: Original (Used by Japanese), Right: Newly Added (for International Community)

Post Office


Koban (Police box)


Buddhist Temple







The plan is to turn the 卍 symbol for Buddhist temples to a 3-story pagoda.


Useful Japanese map symbols to know

Japanese-map-symbols7 Municipal Office

Japanese-map-symbols8 Fire Station

Japanese-map-symbols9 Police Station

Japanese-map-symbols10 Koban (Police Box)

Japanese-map-symbols11 Post Office

Japanese-map-symbols12 Elementary-Middle School

Japanese-map-symbols13 High School

Japanese-map-symbols14 College/ University

Japanese-map-symbols15 Hospital

Japanese-map-symbols16 Shinto Shrine

Japanese-map-symbols17 Buddhist Temple

Japanese-map-symbols18 Factory

Japanese-map-symbols19 Bank

Japanese-map-symbols20 Onsen (Hot Spring)

Japanese-map-symbols21 Castle Ruins

Japanese-map-symbols22 Orchard

Japanese-map-symbols23 Tea Field


There are mixed reactions toward these additional map symbols coming from both Japan and overseas. Some say that it’s strange to change a traditional symbol that’s been used for forever. The retraction of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic emblem is still fresh in people’s minds, but perhaps it’s a forte of the Japanese to simply take back a principle, treat it with flexibility, and have it be suitable to people.

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