Why does Google Maps discriminate against Buddhist Temples?

Dear Google Maps Team,

I have noticed recently that Google Maps in Japan has stopped using the traditional Manji 卍 character for marking Buddhist temples and has substituted a plain gray drop pin. All the other religious organizations still get special icons to denote the religious group: Shinto, Christian, Islam and Judaism. Why do Buddhism get the short stick?

Apple Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps both respect local culture and display Buddhist temples the traditional way. Why can’t you? If you study history and culture you will understand that the Manji character has been used in connection with Buddhism throughout Asia for hundreds of years. It has nothing to do with European history or the tragic events of WW II.

As a Buddhist I hope that non-Buddhists strive to respect Buddhist culture as Buddhists strive to respect other cultures and religions. It’s easy to understand why some Westerners might misunderstand this aspect of Japanese culture, but misunderstanding is always an opportunity to learn new things and grow. When you whitewash one religious symbol because somebody who doesn’t come from that culture doesn’t like it or doesn’t understand it, you are promoting cultural discrimination.

I’m sure Google Maps does not want to promote cultural discrimination. Please do the right thing and respect all religions equally.

Love and Kisses,
Ata Distance

UPDATE
Some readers have suggested this a result of the some preliminary map symbol proposals from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, however the Manji symbol was retained in a later proposal with the word ‘temple’ included. What’s important to remember is that the map symbol suggestions were merely suggestions intended for non-Japanese language maps at tourist areas and such. It’s also important to note that the Japanese government did not consult with Buddhist organizations. In short what Google has done does not follow Japanese government guideline suggestions or respect local culture. It is censorship.

UPDATE 2
Related coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Maps Wish List

UPDATE 3
Manji temple place of interest icons have returned to Google Maps after a long and curious absence:

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Hurry up Apple, Zenrin still talking with Google Maps to supply Japan data

After Google dropped premier Japanese map data supplier Zenrin in March, Google Maps Japan quality took a nose dive as steep as Zenrin’s stock price. Nikkei reports a comment from Zenrin CEO Zenshi Takayama made at the shareholders meeting that the companies are still in discussions but had no specific details to share. It sounds like Google is discovering how much their Japanese map service needs quality Zenrin data to be a viable product.

Apple had better hurry to Zenrin HQ with a pile of cash if they want a chance to beat Google Maps quality is Japan. Apple Image Collection Vans are combing Japan but will never be enough. Google is learning that lesson the hard way.

UPDATE
Related coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Maps Wish List

Apple Maps Japan Vans Up Close

Lots of folks are tweeting pictures of Apple Maps image collection vans now that they are blitzing Tokyo. Close up views of the right side are very interesting, showing a measurement device that has nothing to do with image collection attached to the right rear wheel hub and wired through an enlarged customized fender. Can anybody ID what it is? How fun it would be to peek inside the rear seat area to see all the equipment and what exactly is being measured.

UPDATE
I reader sent a link to a Cult Of Mac post regarding Apple Maps van measurement devices. The right wheel item is called a ‘Wheel Encoder’:

The wheel encoder and GPS keep track of the vehicle’s movements and provide “ground truth” to the maps being generated by other sensors.

Matthew Panzarino wrote back in June 2018:

there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture.

UPDATE 2
Related coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Maps Wish List

Apple Maps Japan Reboot Challenge: Real Progress

Now that Apple Maps image collection white Subaru vans are out and about in force with lots of people tweeting about it, it looks like Apple Maps has finally gotten serious about mapping Japan. We hope. I see 3 basic challenges:

Collect Quality Data
This is obvious and the whole point of Apple Maps image collection vans, but it’s not the whole story. Apple cannot do it all and has to rely on quality map data suppliers. Increment P (IPC) supplies Japanese map data to Apple but they are not the best quality provider and seem to collect and package other data sources rather than getting their own. Case in point, it took IPC 2 years to fix the Great Shinbu Hot Spring Data Cutoff. If Apple wants to go toe to toe with Google Maps in Japan, they should sign Zenrin who are the top map data provider for Japan. Google recently dropped Zenrin and Google Maps Japan has been a disaster ever since.

Process Quality Data
This has been the bane of Apple Maps since day one. I see it as Apple’s biggest challenge: if Apple cannot quickly and intelligently process map data from multiple sources, the best quality data collection effort, along with the data, is completely wasted. Let’s take a look at how well Apple processes IPC map data for the Ikegami Hall area and compare it to Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Ikegami Hall

As you can see from the example, Apple isn’t using much of the IPC map detail available to them, including Ikegami Hall. Maybe somebody at the Apple Maps data processing center in India forgot to put it in, or is waiting for an update from an Apple Maps van. Either way, the Apple Maps team has no idea something important is missing and that in itself is a big problem.

Present Quality Data
In short, cartography. Good cartography doesn’t only make maps look good, it directs your attention to what is important to know, filters out extraneous detail so you can find what you are looking for, while showing how to get there quickly. Yahoo Japan Maps has the best cartography by far, Google Maps runs a distant 2nd place. However both of them constantly tweak their cartography and evolve it. Apple Maps has yet to substantially update their Justin O’Beirne 2012 era cartography and they desperately need to. Take a look at the Gotanda station area of Tokyo comparing the default views of Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps. The quality improves going left to right.

Apple Maps cartography overwhelms the screen with information that doesn’t need to be there. Yahoo Japan Maps is super clean, smartly edited and easy to navigate. The captions explain it all, case closed.

The challenges facing the Apple Maps team in Japan are many. Now that Google has stumbled, Apple has a golden opportunity to create a better map service for Japan and change the market perception of it. I wish them good luck and look forward to seeing what progress they make.

UPDATE
Related coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Maps Wish List

Apple Maps Expands Japan Image Collection Effort

After a small start in 2018 limited to parts of Tokyo and Chiba, Apple has greatly expanded their map data image collection efforts in Japan. It’s a much more ramped up and detailed data sweep covering both major metropolitan and surrounding rural areas in Honshu. Areas on target for image collection from April to October this year include: Greater Kanto (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaragi, Kanagawa), Greater Tokai (Aichi/Nagoya, Mie) and Greater Kansai (Kyoto, Shiga, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara). It’s a lot of ground to cover in 6 months and I hope the Apple Maps team can keep this level of commitment for mapping the rest of Japan.

The Apple Maps reboot has yet to make any difference in Japan, even with the recent addition of indoor maps, but Apple does have a chance now that Google Maps has stumbled badly here since dropping top Japanese map supplier Zenrin. More image collection is a good start but will never be enough. I have said it before and say it again, Apple cannot up their Japan product with current 3rd rate map supplier Increment P, they need to sign Zenrin. Nobody’s artificial intelligence algorithms, not Google’s and certainly not Apple’s, can match the quality of 1,000 Zenrin ground checkers.

UPDATE
Related coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Maps Wish List