When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 1

Now that new maps for France and New Zealand are in final public testing and almost certainly to be mentioned at WWDC22, there is speculation that Japan is next in line for Apple’s “built from the ground up” new map.

In my opinion, we must not forget Japan. Moreover, I find it difficult to understand the situation in this country. Certainly, Apple has updated this country with very accurate third-party data but it remains a very important country for Apple and still does not have the new map data. So, my list of countries will be Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein or Sweden.

Reddit user/Apple Maps subreddit

After all, Japan is high on Justin O’Beirne’s list of countries that Apple cares about:

This suggests that Apple’s expansions over the next couple of years are likeliest to include Austria, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and smaller countries immediately neighboring them.

With Germany, Singapore, France and New Zealand out of the way is Japan really next in line? Based on Apple’s image collection effort in Japan so far the short answer is no, maybe never…at the current pace. Indeed the situation is difficult to understand.

Image collection in Japan kicked off seriously in April 2019 with the big 1st wave covering cities in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki) Nagoya region (Nagoya City with a tiny bit of Mie) and the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga). Mapped cities are listed in the screenshots below. These were the regions of the Look Around Japan launch on August 5, 2020 JST.

At the time Apple Maps showed a splash screen announcing new features for Japan: Look Around, Improved Map, Landmarks

Indeed the cartography was improved, especially in park areas that finally showed paths and other details instead of big green shapes. However, as Justin O’Beirne pointed out, improved map for Japan was only improved cartography of Apple’s primary map data provider Increment P (IPC), not Apple’s new map (confirmed at WWDC21). Apple was doing a better job with IPC Map Fan data but why did they put so much effort into a short term solution? The answer: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that were originally scheduled July 25~August 9 before COVID hit.

People outside of Japan think Apple’s 3rd party map data for Japan is “very accurate”, but Japanese do not and neither do I. IPC was sold by Pioneer to a hedge fund in 2021. They changed the company name to GeoTechnologies, stuffed the board with cushy director positions and now market the awful click-bait for points Torima app. The focus of the company is leveraging assets not building them.

The hallmark of GeoTechnologies map data is the blocky ‘swiss cheese’ look of rural areas and the sloppy mismatched cartography of areas mapped at different intervals badly spliced together. Rivers disappear and reappear, wide roads suddenly become goat paths then roads again, half towns disappear along a mapped region ‘fault lines’. Many problems, never fixed.

Nevertheless the Apple image collection beat goes on with annual mapping sweeps, all for Look Around, now also for AR walking guidance. The 2020 run mapped extensions for Hiroshima, Sendai, Takamatsu and Fukuoka cities, the 2021 run mapped the just released exertions for Sapporo, Niigata, Shizuoka and Akashi cities. The 2022 run is the most extensive yet, half refresh of 2019 mapped areas and half new with Okayama, Kita-Kyushu and Kumamoto cities being mapped for the very first time. Unlike the early runs, the later mapping runs are covering entire listed cites instead of limited central areas.

By the end of this year Apple will have completely mapped 4 prefectures: Tokyo, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto. It’s really weird that huge swathes of rural Shizuoka are being mapped ahead of centrally population areas like greater Nagoya, believe me I lived in Shizuoka for 10 years and cycled everywhere except Gotemba, lots of green mountains and little else. Whatever the reasons we have 4 prefectures in 4 years…1 prefecture a year with 43 prefectures to go. That means Japan will be completed mapped and ready for new map in 2065.

In other words, unless things change in a big way, Japan will remain the Apple Maps outliner it is now and new map will remain elusive as the Sea of Japan.

Related: When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 2: the private road problem

Buddhism Q&A: The Power of Written Odaimoku

These ‘Senbon Hata’ (One Thousand flags) are found on the trail and around Ichinoike (First Lake) of Shichimensan are offerings for ancestors, a wish for good health, etc. They used to be plentiful but have declined along with the number of pilgrims climbing holy mountains.

It is said that one of the reasons Toki Jonin went to so much trouble traveling all over Japan to collect Nichiren Shonin’s writings and letters was not only to preserve them, but preserve them from being eaten. Much like Nichiren Shonin writing the Odaimoku on the rough sea waters for safe passage on his way to exile in Sado, followers of that time revered his words of the Lotus Sutra teachings so much they believed the kanji characters had special protective and healing powers. They would cut out pieces and eat them.

You can find this today in traditional cures or with Kito blessings, some temple give packets that contain tiny slips of flat edible paper like substance with handwritten Odaimoku on it. Followers take them with tea or water as part of the healing. You can also see it in various protective amulets for people or buildings or even farmers’ fields.

The Buddhist history invoking the power of written sutras is long and varied, but the distinctive Ippen Shudai (Odaimoku Mandala) created by Nichiren Shonin has a special power and style found nowhere else. But the power is not in the object, the paper, the calligraphy, or the priest’s hand. Ultimately, it is the power of the Lotus Sutra expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha transmitted to our eyes and our minds from the heart and mind of Nichiren Shonin.

Merry Cashless Christmas 2020 Style

Nice Christmas colors…

A young co-worker tested positive for COVID yesterday so today is PCR test day for the entire office. The office pays but everybody has to find a testing place on their own. Fortunately a PCR test place opened up at Shinjuku Kabukicho yesterday and accepts all major cashless payments including Suica so I was in luck and made an online reservation.

If you go, all you do is make an online reservation, receive an email with name, number and time, then line up with everybody else. When it’s your turn to enter, show your smartphone email number and name to the staff, pay with Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. (Rakuten Pay), take the pouch and go to to any empty partition then drool into a vial with a straw. When done, put straw in vial, cap it, stick your label on, put in plastic pouch and give it the staff.

It’s a dire but perfect setting for a cashless only operation: limited time and staff processing a constant stream of people who can’t be bothered making change. Staff and customers don’t want to risk health either, the less contact the better for all concerned. It’s also the perfect 2020 Japan cashless wrap up: a cashless only COVID PCR testing facility in a year where COVID relentlessly drove cashless use.

As they say in Japanese: やれやれ.

Have a good cashless…and a Merry COVID free Christmas.

Power and Responsibility and Cultural Respect

It took me a while to fully appreciate the issue that Twitter user Yoshimasa Niwa was describing. At first glance I and many others assumed that setting Japanese over English would solve his app library sorting issue.

Then I realized that wasn’t his point at all. The software app in the screenshot is the Yahoo Japan ‘Norikae Annai’ transit app, one of the most popular free stand alone transit apps in Japan. I use it all the time. It’s a Japanese app with a Japanese name but the basic iOS English sorting algorithm ignores this and assumes all Chinese characters used everywhere must follow modern mainland China’s Simplified Chinese rules for reading and sorting.

This is ridiculous as assuming that all Roman based character sets everywhere must follow modern Italian reading and sorting rules. I always find that westerners assume the Kanji culture flow was always one way from China which it is not, with different and unique readings, usages, and Japanese Kanji like shitsuke 躾 traveling the other way over the centuries. The same is true for other cultures that adapted the Chinese writing system for their languages.

It amounts to cultural destruction by neglect and ignorance by large western based technology companies who think things are ‘good enough’. Or are just bugs to fix in a later software update that usually never appears. Modern computer software has pretty much destroyed traditional kanji culture publishing this way, with many countries abandoning mainstream traditional vertical text layout for western style layout because ‘it’s easier’, i.e. western tech companies couldn’t be bothered getting Asian language typography right. All these years later web browsers still can’t do vertical text worth a damn.

A veteran Japanese font engineer whose entire career was devoted to preserving high end Japanese typography in the digital age recently told me, “I don’t think anybody cares anymore.” In the end it all too often comes down to this: I don’t care cultural death by I don’t care companies who have the money and power to care.

That’s bitter irony in our age that purports to champion cultural diversity.

Yumi Matsutoya Arrives on Apple Music

Talk about finally. Yumi Matsutoya, one of the biggest Japanese artists and J-Pop stars of the last 50 years, and one of the longest holdouts, landed with her complete catalog on Apple Music Japan this Friday. Her profile is listed on the Apple Music US site (Yumi Matsutouya). The catalog isn’t up yet but looks like it should be coming soon.

Japanese metadata tags are the usual Apple mess: the artist name in English instead of Japanese on iTunes downloads but proper Japanese on Apple Music downloads. The once proud iTunes Music Store is such a vestigial appendage to Apple Music, Apple clearly wants to kill it off.

Nevertheless this is great news for longtime fans. I know exactly what’s going to be playing the rest of the day.