Japan Tip: Upside Down Maps

Stare at a dense Japanese map in a subway for a while and you may start to think everything is upside down.

You may be right. While I have seen this occasionally in some other Asian countries, Japan regularly orientates north in whichever way the mapmaker wanted. Usually it seems to be aligned with the direction a viewer of the map is facing.

In Japan always look for the direction of the N or 北. In this example from the Osaka subway, north is pointing down, as indicated in the upper right.

Osaka Map

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6 Comments on "Japan Tip: Upside Down Maps"

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in the Taipei subway the local maps are oriented to the up is straight ahead no matter which cardinal direction that is


In England they always give driving directions by landmark/city. It would be “heading toward Warrington”, rather than north. maybe it’s because things don’t tend to be as grid oriented as they are here. Otherwise, I don’t know why it would be that people almost never use north, south, east, west when giving directions.

Jennifer C.

I really love the maps that are in direction of travel. Not sure if it’s gender-related, but I (female) cannot wrap my head around “North up” maps unless the scale is large (if I want to see Spain’s relation to Greenland, for example.)I realize I am in the minority, though this fascinating article delves deeper into the concept: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?pagewanted=all

Rapid Travel Chai

@Jennifer C – very interesting and thanks for sharing the article. Certainly from my days living in China, while road signs have cardinal directions on them, telling someone to go north or whatever leads to a blank state, and asking for directions is always navigation by landmark and walking times, rather than, say, number of blocks.

Rapid Travel Chai

@dhammer53 – NYC one is great, still not used to the NYC online Weekender, though.


The New York subway map is a real map of NYC, with the subway system shown in actual locations. The Tokyo map, and others around the world, is just a station listing! Drives me crazy.