The Suica 2.0 launch in the Tohoku region on May 27 is not simply a launch. It marks the transition to a whole new business model for JR East. The future is Suica as a mobile payment and services platform that leverages JR East transit infrastructure. It has to be because the traditional business model of selling train tickets is declining along with the population of Japan. Fewer people, fewer trains. Lifestyles and work styles are changing too, as expected, but COVID has drastically accelerated societal shifts that planners expected to happen gradually such as doing away with work day commuting and the need for commuter passes.
And there is mobile. The ability of doing things with an app and a credit card instead of having to go to the station ticket office or kiosk has made a lot of station infrastructure irrelevant. Station infrastructure and ticketing systems built for the era of cash based kiosks for paper tickets, commuter passes is redundant in the Mobile Suica era, and maintaining local JR Green Window Ticket Offices in every station is expensive.
For example, long time JR East commuters have witnessed the gradual elimination of paper ticket kiosks in favor of pink Suica recharge kiosks. This is because over 90% of JR East Tokyo area transit users use Suica or PASMO and the reason why there are fewer expensive maintenance heavy IC + paper ticket gates and more inexpensive easy maintenance IC only gates at stations. Are there are more IC Card only exits in rebuilt stations especially with connecting shopping malls.
Open Loop Reality All of this is taking place while multiple transit companies are testing open loop transit for deployment as a way to increase revenue. One of the issues that people don’t discuss about open loop transit is the lack of integration on a large scale like closed loop Suica. Open Loop doesn’t travel well. When you examine the deployments around the world, it is limited to isolated systems with simple fare structures. That’s why I call the Japanese test installations transit boutiques. It doesn’t integrate well across complex fare structures and multiple transit connected companies. It doesn’t work for reserve seat Shinkansen and express train eTicketing. Complex transit ticket packaging and fare validation speed is where closed loop shines. In real world testing open loop isn’t an improvement over Transit IC. The mix and match transit gate environment, predictably, slows things down. Open Loop has its place in the transit mix, but I believe the return on investment will not live up to expectations.
Integration is the key The promise of Suica 2.0 boils down to creating a whole new level of integration. The current Transit IC standard is a strong one because it integrates cards across different transit regions with cross compatible eMoney purchasing. The integration of mobile with Suica took it to a whole new level as the world’s first transit payment platform, as did Apple Pay integration in 2016. By moving fare processing to the cloud, Suica 2.0 will integrate isolated Suica regions, integrate new flexible fares and new types of commuter passes while promoting local services in new ways. It will eventually incorporate QR ticketing as well. As cloud based transit IC systems are linked together, the integration will spread beyond JR East. Integration is the only way forward for the Transit IC platforms, Suica, PASMO and ICOCA, to evolve and survive and grow in the mobile era. It’s going to be a very interesting journey.
The confusion is understandable. People assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here and imagine that Japan is a small, easy to map island country. You can only appreciate how big Japan is and how circuitous the roads are by driving them.
Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. They don’t bother with other classifications (prefectures, villages, towns, etc.), only cities and districts. Apple starts with select key cities in a prefecture then gradually adds less populated cities and districts over several mapping seasons until an entire prefecture is mapped. This could be changing.
The entire Apple Maps Image Collection 2023 schedule for Japan was pulled just as it was due to start on February 1 then reposted in early March with new dates running three months shorter than the original schedule and a new collection area covering all unmapped sections of Aichi Prefecture. Yamanashi Prefecture is also on the schedule and will be the first prefecture Apple is mapping in one season (March~October 2023). Perhaps this is a new faster paced image collection strategy, we shall see.
To explain the situation, I have come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully clearly shows the piecemeal image collection in easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not. Highlighting every city and district is way too much detail so I chose color coded prefectures in 3 categories:
Mostly Mapped Prefectures ‘Mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). In Japan there are lots of publicly used local community maintained roads classified as ‘private roads‘ that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant dead spots in areas ‘completely covered’ by Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks and this has lots of implications not only for redesigned map cartography, Look Around, AR Walking Directions, etc., but overall quality and usefulness.
Partially Mapped Prefectures Major metropolis areas that include surrounding parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area region prefectures like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
Selectively Mapped Prefectures Capital cites in Hokkaido, Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Ehime, Kumamoto prefectures. Capital and/or select cities in Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kagawa, Mie.
As the graph clearly shows, Apple Maps image collection in Japan has a long way to go: by the end of 2023 out of 47 prefectures, 8 will be completely mapped, 4 will be partially mapped, 13 selectively mapped, 22 will remain completely unmapped. The gradual expansion means redesigned proprietary New Maps and the services connected with them, Detailed City Experiences, 3D landmarks, etc., are not coming in 2023, 2024 or even 2025, not unless Apple greatly accelerates its image collection pace. Those features cannot happen until Apple image collection vans map all of Japan, including private roads as Google does. If New Maps and the features that depend on them magically appear before the job is done, it will mean one thing: the map data isn’t Apple’s and isn’t proprietary. They have to get the missing pieces from someone.
I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (likely for WWDC23) but Japan maps are stuck with 3rd rate GeoTechnologies supplied cartography and will be for some time to come. And believe me, the pretty looking map details don’t match the ground truth outside of metropolitan areas. In short, Apple Maps in Japan has been, and will remain, the all bets off outliner for redesigned maps and associated features.
Not that it matters much for iPhone users in Japan: 80% of Japanese iPhone users don’t use Apple Maps. Mind share and market share has long been dominated by Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps. That is not going to change. Take the current state of Look Around for example. Say you are a real estate business and you link available houses and rental apartments with an online mapping service. With Google Maps you are assured that potential buyers can use Street View to examine everything because Street View covers all areas including private roads. Not so with Look Around. It’s for this reason I think Apple Maps Business Connect will be a tough sell in Japan when so many potential business locations are literally off the Look Around map. Until things change in a big way, going with Google Maps for business is a no brainer.
2023-04-28 Update Apple updated existing pre-expansion Look Around areas with 2022 image data, including backpack images of station areas. Re-mapped driven areas appear to be limited to central areas and underground roadways such as the Yamanote Expressway. New features include:
Look Around in-station areas Main stations now include backpack collected images for station entrance areas (outside the transit gates) and connecting corridors to shopping areas and stations, but no station indoor maps or AR directions. This first appearance of indoor Look Around images in Japan suggests more is coming: the current implementation is hard to use as it does not have the ability to switch between layered above and below ground Look Around views. Lots of backpack image collected underground stations mapped in 2022 have yet to appear.
POI Look Around Look Around areas with Point of Interest (POI) labels as also expanded to most Look Around JP areas incorporating 2022 collected images but is mostly limited to central areas in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka. Tokyo for example is mostly limited to wards ‘inside’ or ‘along side’ the Yamanote Line, though Tokyo areas with 2022 refreshed imagery are likely to have them. Look Around #2, #3, #4 (Hiroshima, Niigata, Sapporo, Kanazawa, etc.) also have POI Look Around in central areas. Look Around areas without POI labels have labels for major bridges, roads, stations and other important navigation landmarks.
2023-05-12 Update Apple is rolling out the Look Around #5 expansion. All of it seems loaded but not fully optimized. Shizuoka expansions are not showing as available, for example, even though Look Around views can be seen by zooming in from adjacent available areas.
2023-05-15 Update Kumamoto City Look Around has been taken offline, there was a large hole in the central famous Kumamoto Castle area that needed to be fixed. As with the Shizuoka additions, it may take a while before optimizations and the rollout are completed and available.
The gallery below shows new Look Around views.
Look Around #1 August 2020: Greater Tokyo, Greater Osaka, Greater Nagoya
Look Around #2 January 2021: Fukuoka City, Hiroshima City, Nara (Greater Osaka), Takamatsu City
Look Around #3 May 2021: Sendai City, Kanazawa City
Look Around #4 May 2022: Sapporo City, Niigata City, Shizuoka City, Akashi City
Look Around #5 May 2023: Tokyo Metropolis including Tokyo Islands, Chiba Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture, Maebashi City, Takasaki City, Okayama City, Kita-Kyushu City, Kumamoto City
2022 mapping season: the basis for Look Around #5 expansion in 2023
The original Apple Maps image collection Japan schedule for 2023 posted in January, pulled, then reposted 2023-03-30 with new collection dates (March 30~October 30) and new collection areas for Aichi Prefecture. This will be the basis for Look Around #6 expansion in 2024.
It was a very tough winter for the priests working at Keishi-in temple on the top of Shichimensan. There was so much heavy snow that it snapped the utility poles. Repairs couldn’t be done until the spring. Chief priest Kochi Uchino described the scene. “We were without power and pumps for running water. All we could do was scoop up the snow and melt it over the wood fire. We had never experienced anything like it.”
Nothing in recent memory prepared them for an endless string of natural calamities: unusually heavy snow, multiple typhoons passing directly over the mountain, torrential rains washing out huge swaths of the upper trail, the main path to Keishi-in temple for pilgrims and supplies, a holy mountain for Nichiren Buddhists with a history dating back more than 800 years and roots as a holy place of practice for wandering Shugendo mystics.
It seemed like cruel irony, all this after the Edo period Keishi-in main hall had undergone a long restoration, 100 years of grime and soot were carefully removed with new gold leaf applied so that the main altar enshrining a statue of the protective goddess Shichimen glittered again in the dim light. There was also a magnificent new painted ceiling. The old soot covered painted ceiling with its protective Dragon dating from 1802 was carefully removed. Each 4 meter board was wrapped and taken down the mountain to a safe warehouse in the Kuon-ji temple compound in Minobu, where plans were made to do something with it eventually.
The calamities continued. The popular Monk’s Race Trail Run was cancelled due to the washed out roads, then washed out trails, then nearly undone by the COVID pandemic. But the faithful pilgrims who continued to climb told Uchino, “You should not have removed the old Dragon ceiling, it was a ‘kekkai’ protecting the mountain.”
Kekkai is a tricky word to translate from Japanese into English. It originally comes from Shinto, as do all esoteric Japanese Buddhist practices do from Shingon to Tendai. Some of the Tendai esoteric lineage can still been seen in Nichiren Shu practices. It’s a kind of spiritual barrier, to protect or to keep ‘bad things’ out, or sometimes keep humans out. The definition of what constitutes a bad thing also varies because it depends on how humans define bad, in their very limited and selfish ways, at any given moment. Protective deities see things differently. Nevertheless the old Dragon ceiling was not only protecting pilgrims and priests, it was protecting Shichimensan too.
A simpler explanation came much later from a friend who was raised in a Shinto household, “You mean to tell me the priests of Keishi-in didn’t know that? I guess the ignorance of Buddhist priests knows no bounds. The Japanese dragon is a completely different creature from the Chinese dragon, far back in Shinto lore. Priests used to know these things.”
With no respite from endless calamities Uchino thought about asking for the old ceiling back but didn’t know how to take up the subject with Kunon-ji Temple, the most important temple in Nichiren Shu. Maybe they had already made plans. Then a terrible electrical storm hit.
“It was the worst, most intense lightning storm I’ve ever experienced,” Uchino said. “Cloud to ground, bolt after bolt, dirt flying in the air. That’s when I make up my mind to call Kuon-ji. I was just about to dial when the phone rang. It was Kuon-ji…they wanted to return the old ceiling.” The carefully wrapped Dragon ceiling boards were taken out of storage and back up Shichimensan, half-way by a small wire lift, the rest by backpack.
But there was no way to put it back, the new ceiling was in place. Uchino consulted with the Miya-daiku. Miya-daiku are a special breed of Japanese carpenters, shrine carpenters, the nobility of their craft. Only they know how to construct traditional wooden shrine and temple buildings in the traditional manner, without nails or other modern techniques. As chance would have it the miya-daiku had re-hung a big new main hall re-dedication sign from the left wall to the front. “The sign was mostly hidden by the big paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on that side. We decided to move it to the front but it was a difficult job, just barely fitting.
“As luck would have it, when the old ceiling boards came back the miya-daiku pointed to the now vacant left wall and said, ‘It will fit there.'” And it did, a perfect fit, ” As Rev. Uchino explained, “the moment they finished installing the old ceiling, the weather returned to peace and quiet like somebody had pressed a button.” The kekkai Dragon ceiling was back on the job, completing a mysterious chain of events. After it was all over, having served a longer term than usual, nearly 4 years instead of the normal 3 years, he reflected on the adventure. “I don’t want to criticize the former Chief Priest but there wasn’t any thought about preserving the classic art of the Keishi-in main hall when repainting the ceiling.”
It was a very nice story, just like a lot of Nichiren Shonin legends, but they are important beyond being true or not. It’s not superstition either. Nichiren Shonin put enormous energy into teaching the power of belief. Belief in the Dharma, belief in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, belief that Eternal Buddha is always with us and in us. I think it’s the power of belief, belief in the Dharma, belief that there is a Buddha in you, that brings people to Shichimensan where they are watched over by the Goddess Shichimen, and protected by the Dragon of the Dharma.
Special thanks to the Chief Priests of Keishi-in Temple Shichimensan for their time and special permission for taking pictures inside of the Keishi-in main hall and the Dragon wall. The pictures of the temple interior may not be shared without their permission.
This is not a WWDC23 prediction, but at some point Apple will certainly unveil a variable San Francisco CJK (Chinese-Japanese-Korean) system font to match the rest of the Apple SF font family, and it will be unveiled at WWDC. I’m not a fan of the CJK name and the mental baggage that comes with it because it’s one of those western concoctions that deal with pesky Asian cultural differences by sweeping those differences under the rug of indifference. Like using a leaf blower to blow and hide dirt everywhere instead of removing the dirt by neatly sweeping the mess into a bag. It’s all Chinese right?
Wrong. Chinese is merely the start point for centuries of cultural evolutions and written language aesthetics that are distinctly different for each language. There are Kanji created in Japan that have migrated the other way. Cultural flow is never one way. CJK is a kind of snub intended to keep the cultural flow one way by neatly collapsing important differences as ‘CJK styles’ for the convenience of westerners who can’t be bothered to understand what those differences are. Just as western based baseline font technology can’t reproduce high quality vertical kanji layout, all in one CJK designs can’t reproduce high quality typography across languages. One hopes Apple is spending the money and time to get those differences right for each language group, C+J+K if you will, because it’s not easy.
What will a SF C+J+K design instead of an all in one CJK design look like? Hiragino Sans GB is a good font to examine as it represents an early Apple lead effort to create a mixed Japanese and Chinese design, best described as a “Simplified Chinese version of the Hiragino typeface…designed to make Simplified Chinese characters look good in Japanese texts, and vice versa.” When I talked with one of the key Hiragino designers, Osamu Torinoumi, in 2009 about the Hiragino Sans GB bundled in Snow Leopard, he explained that one design does not fit all.
We (JIYUKOBO and Screen) visited Beijing Hanyi Keyin Information Technology Co. in December 2007. The top designer is a young woman, Ms. Zhong. We couldn’t talk to each other because of the language barrier and didn’t know if we had the same design sensibility so she started pulling out the hand drawn templates for one of their designs and we went through them one by one. I would point out the design problems and she would nod her head in agreement and after a while I realized we both thought alike.” JIYUKOBO sent all the original Hiragino design data to Hanyi Keyin through Screen and they adapted the designs for China.
“We worked with the Adobe GB 1-4 character set (29,064 glyphs) at 2 weights. Basically we had to finish one weight in 6 months. One year for the entire project. At first we only thought we would be there as backup, but Screen kept passing us all the questions from Beijing. It turned out to be a lot more work than we anticipated.”
“One of the major differences is that Chinese design demands that Gothic (sans serif) characters mimic handwritten style. This means the character should be slightly off center within the virtual body. Even after the project was over I still didn’t understand the difference between Japanese and Chinese “Kokoro” glyphs which the Chinese designers insisted were different.”
If one of the top font designers in Japan cannot understand the differences between Japanese and Chinese “Kokoro” glyph designs, I doubt Apple designers will be able to figure it out on their own. I hope for the best but all too often ‘all in one’ CJK font designs sweep those kinds of important differences under the rug.
Japanese Typography and Font Posts
This is a collection of long form Japanese typography posts. They were written as stand alone pieces, so there is some background explanation overlap, always a weak point of the blog format.
Golden Week is never a good time to travel in Japan. Tickets are scarce, discounts are impossible to find. Japanese media shows packed Shinkansen trains and traffic jammed expressways. But somehow Golden Week nowadays doesn’t feel like the Golden Week of the early 1980’s. Back then Golden Week, Obon and New Years were the only big vacation times and everybody travelled, salaries also bought a lot more. These days people have the luxury of many national holidays to choose from, but proportionally less salary to travel with.
There was a kind of thrill traveling in ridiculously vacation packed transit back then that is hard to experience now. And crowds were younger with families in tow with something always going on. In my stupid youth I thought I could find the ‘real Japan’ and avoid the crowds. It was years before I realized that ‘real Japan’ was a fool’s quest that prevented me enjoying special moments in special places with special people.
My father and mother came to Japan just before Golden Week 1984 for a company event. I had been in Japan for 6 months in an exchange program and met up with them in Shizuoka where a new manufacturing plant had been built. The local president arranged lodgings for our trip with a stay in Atami during Golden Week. I don’t remember the name of the hotel but it was a typical Showa style family place with everybody in yukata and kids running everywhere. The walls were thin, the food was blah, the husbands were slightly drunk, the wives scolded kids, the onsen baths were packed, and our room had view of the ugly backside of the hotel next door.
In my mind I thought my knowledge of Japan was enough to navigate a nice quiet outing the next day to see some ‘real Japan’. We headed to Hakkone in jam packed trains, a jam packed bus and finally a jam packed ropeway. The summit was covered in clouds and crowds. Completely defeated I took my parents back to the awful Atami hotel. The next day they got on a Sunrise bus tour and I went back to Osaka, later meeting up with them in Kyoto for a wonderful and magical overnight stay at the famous Sumiya Ryokan.
And yet, through the years we’d always laugh, ‘do you remember that awful Atami?’ The magical Sumiya memories slowly faded, but not awful Atami. My mother loved her one and only visit to Japan and never made it over again. Years later I had to the chance to take my father and family friends on some wonderfully crafted and unique Japanese travel experiences that my partner spend months planning, the kind of trips you only get to do once or twice in a lifetime. My father always had a great time but as the years advanced even those memories faded. But not Atami. Even in his last years we still laughed about Atami. Now that my parents are gone there’s nobody to laugh with anymore, but the worst memories of Atami are now the best memories of all…and they still make me smile.
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