New Apple Maps for Japan nowhere in sight amid big Look Around expansion plans

Significant Look Around expansions for Tokyo (including Tokyo Islands), Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto and Osaka covering most if not all of the public roads in those prefectures are coming this spring (April~May 2023), along with capital city or select city and district additions for Aichi, Gunma, Okayama, Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures.

This will be the largest Look Around expansion for Japan since the August 2020 ‘Tokyo Olympics’ kickoff launch. Yet after five years of Apple Maps image collection, redesigned ‘New Maps’ with Apple proprietary cartography seen in America and recent European rollouts remain an elusive goal. There has been some discussion on Reddit and elsewhere about when redesigned Apple Maps are coming to Japan, but most people seem confused. Even Justin O’Beirne initially listed Japan as a 2023 new maps candidate but wisely removed it.

Many people assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here and think Japan is a small island country. Map views are deceptive: you can only appreciate how much bigger Japan is in real life when driving it.

Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. That is to say Apple does not bother with stand alone mapping of other classifications (villages, towns, etc.), and has never mapped an entire prefecture in one concentrated sweep: they start with select large cities and districts then gradually add less populated cities and districts over several mapping seasons.

Yamanashi Prefecture was to be the first prefecture Apple would map in one season (February~November 2023). However, the entire Apple Maps Image Collection 2023 schedule for Japan was pulled just as it was due to start on February 1. Backpack image collection was re-added on March 22, so far no van image collection is scheduled for Japan in 2023, though this may change.

To explain the situation, I have come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully explains the complicated situation with easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not.

  1. Mostly Mapped Prefectures
    I say ‘mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). There are plenty of publicly used local community maintained ‘private roads‘ in urban areas that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant Look Around and AR Walking Direction dead spots in areas after Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks have ‘completely covered’ them, and this has major implications for creating Apple proprietary ‘New Maps’.
  2. Partially Mapped Prefectures
    Major metropolis areas that include good sized parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Aichi, Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area regions like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
  3. Selectively Mapped Prefectures
    Capital cites in select prefectures: Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Ehime, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto.

In short Apple Maps Japan continues its gradual measured expansion which means no proprietary New Maps, Detailed City Experiences or 3D landmarks, etc., are coming in 2023, 2024 or even 2025. Those features cannot happen until Apple image collection vans map all of Japan, including private roads as Google does. I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (WWDC23 maybe?) but for regular maps Japan is stuck with the mediocre GeoTechnologies cartography…and will be for some time to come.

When will Japan get Apple’s New Maps? Part 1, Part 2: the private road problem

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

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 then pulled. As of 2023-03-22, only backpack image collection has been reposted.