Literally Lost and Lost in Translation: iPhone Maps System in Japan

November 6th, 2012By Category: Travel

First of all, Google maps is really stupid. Anyone who spends more than 5 minutes in Japan quickly learns that  all street signs, all train signs, and all signs that are at all useful for navigation in Japan have Romaji on them (English alphabet). This is because Kanji is very difficult especially when it comes to names. Kanji can have multiple readings, so if you are lost and looking at signs, even the locals can have trouble understanding whether they are in Otsuki or Daitsuki, two possible readings for 大月. Ben is good at Japanese, but his Kanji is still pretty rudimentary, it is a constant frustration for Ben and I that although we typed the search in romaji, the street names and block names are all in Kanji.

I am actually baffled by how utterly useless the iPhone is now for navigation in Japan.

Here are the recent changes:

(1) The iPhone now only registers my current location about 1/3rd of the time, including places with full service, and a clear view of the sky.

(2) Romaji versions of Japanese Addresses (i.e. the way you would write the address on a letter to Japan from the United States) are no longer valid when searching on the iPhone.

(3) Searching for addresses in Japanese only works for major landmarks (you can no longer search for Ben and my house on the iPhone)

(4) Most train stations no longer register as valid locations on the phone

(5) Driving directions are now gobbledygook. First of all, the directions are in miles. Miles are useless here,  it would be better if they gave me directions based on the length of a unicorn horn, at least it would make me smile. (I changed my map settings to km, but my directions still show up in miles). Often the directions say “take exit” without giving the exit name (in Japan it is not unheard of to half a dozen exits within a km of each other). Often the Kanji is just plain wrong. And now, often, the directions get you to wrong places.

(6) Walking directions now never work…ever. I wish you could at least pull up a map and watch it move as you walk around, but it can’t track you (it never really could).

(7) Directions often direct you to wrong places.

8) The stupidest part of the new system is it no longer allows you to get directions using public transportation. You can get anywhere worth going by train in Japan, and the entire country is built around their marvelous train system. I am so dumbfounded by this, I can’t think of a single person in Japan that would find this useful now that it no longer allows directions by train.

I hope they fix the maps system soon.  If anyone knows a good app for navigating in Japan, please let me know!

Author of this article

Katie McGregor

My name is Katie. I moved to Japan with my fiance, now husband, from the beautiful state of Colorado. We were lucky enough to find ourselves in the rural, friendly, and stunningly mountainous  prefecture of Yamanashi. I write about Japan's quirks, irks, and perks on my blog:

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