features

Group urges changing Buddhist temple mark on maps to avoid Nazi connotations

56 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

In an effort to make travelling in Japan more convenient for overseas visitors, the Geospatial Information Authority recently conducted a survey of foreigners on the streets of Asakusa, the historical district of Tokyo that’s one of the city’s largest draws for travelers from abroad. In particular, the GSI, as the government organization is also called, wanted to pick the brains of non-Japanese people on the symbols and pictograms used on foreign-language maps in Japan.

Based on participants’ responses, the GSI is suggesting a number of changes to maps being produced for foreigners in the upcoming fiscal year (which begins in April). For example, the organization is cautioning against using a capital H to designate the location of hotels, since some might mistake the letter as an abbreviation for “hospital.” Instead, the GSI suggests a pictogram of a bed. And while every Japanese native knows that 〒 on a map means there’s a post office there, foreigners aren’t likely to be familiar with the symbol that can be found on Japanese mailboxes, and so the GSI would prefer mapmakers use the more universally intuitive picture of an envelope.

On the other hand, some traditional Japanese symbols were found to present no particular problems for foreign users. The “onsen mark,” three squiggly lines of steam rising out of a round body of water, was widely understood to denote a hot spring. Likewise, most foreigners could suss out that a drawing of a torii gate represented a Shinto shrine, thanks to the distinctive shape of the entrance to their grounds.

But one symbol was found to have extremely different connotations for Japanese and foreign map users: the manji.

The manji clearly indicates a Buddhist temple, at least for those up on their Buddhist iconography (the symbol is also used in Hinduism and Jainism). But to many Westerners who don’t have much occasion to come into contact with Asian religions, the first thing they’ll think of when seeing a manji is the swastika used by Nazi Germany.

In the manji’s defense, the symbol had been used as a religious icon for centuries before the Nazis took a shining to it. Also, in Japan the manji is always drawn with its prongs turning counter-clockwise, as opposed to the Nazi swastika’s clockwise twists.

Nevertheless, Japan’s Geospatial Information Authority has deemed that the manji is ill-suited to foreign-language maps, and is instead suggesting that it be replaced with a drawing of a three-story pagoda.

To clarify, the GSI isn’t asking Buddhist temples in Japan to remove manji symbols from their premises, nor is it asking for changes to be made to Japanese-language maps. And while the organization did refer to the manji as “inappropriate” for foreign-language maps in its newest set of guidelines, it didn’t specify whether that judgement was based on the potential to offend sensitive foreign visitors or simply the high probability of confusing them because of their lack of a mental connection between the symbol and Buddhism.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the GSI-recommended symbol is an imperfect substitute for the manji. While honest-to-goodness pagodas are generally only found at Buddhist temples in Japan, it’s not hard to imagine someone mistaking the symbol for a simplified drawing of a castle.

Source: Nico Nico News via Jin

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese discount clothing chain selling swastika necklaces (also ugly tank tops) -- Tour alleged yakuza hideouts on Google Maps -- Japan’s 30 best travel destinations, as chosen by overseas visitors

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


56 Comments
Login to comment

I would suggest not changing the manji at all. Let foreigner visitors learn what it means and let the symbol be re-appropriated in their minds by Buddhism and the rest. After that happens the Nazi appropriation of the symbol looks stupid, unimaginative and ridiculous, like most of the Nazi paraphernalia.

34 ( +38 / -4 )

Sounds like a good idea; however, prominent keys to symbols on maps would likely be equal to the task. Would non-Japanese be incapable of adjusting to new symbols in their new location? Probably not. Welcome to Japan:: Things are different here. (Maybe even unique.)

2 ( +7 / -5 )

I remember the first time I saw a manji on a map. I certainly took notice, but still obviously knew that I wasn't looking at the handiwork of an evil Nazi sympathizer. So in that respect, as @Moonraker writes, showing the symbol is a good opportunity to educate visitors about the symbol, and re-appropriate it.

Still, I would vote to change it on tourist maps because the Buddhist temple symbol makes more sense to me from an aesthetic and practical standpoint, particularly in contrast to the torii gate Shinto shrine symbol. And even if tourist maps do away with the "卍"manji symbol, most visitors will still probably run across it at the Buddhist temples they visit, so will still have the opportunity to experience their a-ha moment.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Manji should remain, I am from a small country, but even I know that Hitler reversed the peaceful hindu sign for his own reign of terror. People should learn these things first and act accordingly.

15 ( +19 / -4 )

"In the manji’s defense, the symbol had been used as a religious icon for centuries before the Nazis took a shining to it"

Centuries? How 2000 years. Leave it be.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Strange that mark comes in a forward and backward facing as can be seen on any Zen Buddhist Shrine.

Actually one of the earliest version of the Yin/Yang sign, many organisations dropped the sign like the boy scouts, sholindhi, Kempo, etc.

The real sign of power to the Nazi's was that they used the Roman Eagle.

Pity it is such an important sign for Mani Asians and their religions.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I agree with Moonraker. However, we also shouldn't let Buddhists or Hindus appropriate and monopolize the symbol either. It's been found on countless pieces of prehistoric pottery and art from around the world. It's a very simple and universal design that should be available to everyone.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

I was so excited to read this article. A Japanese organization went out to non-Japanese visitors and polled how effectively some part of Japanese communication is getting across to them, and then is proposing changes to make it more effective. Do you have any idea of how huge that is? This is a country where so many people think if they just run whatever Japanese they have through Google Translate, then the onus is on everyone else in the world to interpret their message. Kudos to the GSI for demonstrating that communication is a two-way street.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

I have nothing whatsoever against the manji symbol, but I must admit still when I see it the first thing that naturally and immediately pops into my mind is a swastika and Nazi-ism, even though I know fully well what the manji means and have seen it thousands of times.

On the flip side, some years ago I overheard some Japanese high school students in a church setting commenting on how morbid and weird they found the cross with Jesus nailed to it displayed prominently in the church. They were creeped out by it. I am not sure why, but I had never seen it that way, and had always ironically even regarded it as an object of art and beauty. Obviously, I fully realize now that the image of somebody being given the death penalty wouldn't be very consoling to anyone from a non-Christian culture.

It just goes to show that a symbol that can be positive, or even neutral, in one culture, can come across as somewhat grating to another.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Oh Please. What special snowflake has a problem now? The mark is not even the same. It's the opposite. Hitler STOLE the symbol for his purposes. You don't reward bad history by succumbing to it. You create new history by understanding.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

What a dumb ideal. Really.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Why dignify Hitler's short-lived misappropriation of Manji?

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Yeah, I agree with most people here. Why should we eradicate historical symbol just because it might offend some dense foreign. I am sure most of us who came to japan, did a double take when we first saw that symbol. What did we all do? We learned its true meaning and we also learned it is in fact not the same as the Nazi symbol. Whats next? Forks at kaiten sushi? We are talking about a piece of Japanese historical culture that should not be changed. Maybe some aspects of the not so permanent Japanese pop culture should be examined like maid cafes where child prostitution is basically legal.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

I'd like to think that tourist guide books explain the various map symbols so changing the established system used here isn't necessary. I'd rather the GSI channel their resources into improving the street naming system -- specifically, giving names to major streets that don't have them and romanizing street names to make them easier read (non-German tourists would probably have a hard time parsing a street name like "Akabanenishiguchidori," for example.)

But also, if the GSI is all about making symbols and such easier to understand, they should start at home first. Why is the name of an organization called the Geospatial Information Authority abbreviated as GSI?!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Changing it would be as stupid as Kinki University changing its name because it made foreigners snicker.

12 ( +14 / -3 )

Dykes: No need to label a foreigner as 'dense'. Being unaware of different culture's use of symbols is to be expected. Perhaps you might suggest a more constructive approach.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Any visitor will soon find out what the symbol means. What is wrong with letting foreign visitors learn something new? I think this is silly.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

No need to cater to Eurocentric sensibilities in this case.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

the_sheriffJAN. 18, 2016 - 09:45AM JST I'd like to think that tourist guide books explain the various map symbols so changing the established system used here isn't necessary.

These symbols do not just appear in tourist guide books. They appear on practically every map made in Japan, and since these symbols, like the onsen symbol, are considered common knowledge in Japan most maps I've seen them used in don't have keys at all. To Japanese people, they need about as much explanation as a spoon and fork icon require to Americans.

I'd rather the GSI channel their resources into improving the street naming system -- specifically, giving names to major streets that don't have them...

Do you have any idea how massive of an undertaking you're proposing? Coming up with names for even just the major streets that don't have one would take months of work for bureaucrats across the country. We're talking about a society where people throw a fit about if someone builds a daycare in their neighborhood, and now you want everyone who lives on an entire street to agree on the name?

Swapping out one icon for another, provided that GSI provides a decent quality vector-based image of the icon and that the maps have been compentently designed by their illustrators, is probably a task that takes no more than 5 minutes of work per map. No one has to erect new signage, no one has to change any landmarks, you just swap one layer for another in illustrator or photoshop. Easy peasy.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Changing it would be as stupid as Kinki University changing its name because it made foreigners snicker.

Likewise for Kinki Nippon Tourist....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Do you have any idea how massive of an undertaking you're proposing? Coming up with names for even just the major streets that don't have one would take months of work for bureaucrats across the country. We're talking about a society where people throw a fit about if someone builds a daycare in their neighborhood, and now you want everyone who lives on an entire street to agree on the name?

If Korea did it, then Japan should be able to…

http://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/Policies/view?articleId=115258

Under the new system, road names and building numbers will be assigned in sequential order, unlike the current system, starting from a street’s origin and running to its end point. The existing address system can be somewhat inconvenient to use because land-oriented lot numbers are not assigned in order. The new system, however, will make it easier to find one’s destination, as long as you have the right address.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

The other day I saw a modern electric sign sticking out from the side of a building in a K-drama, the only thing on it was a manzi.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

They can simply write a short explanation for that on maps for foreigners.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If Korea did it, then Japan should be able to…

Japan is not Korea. We are talking about Buddhist temple marks not about street names here.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Don't change it -- it is the manji that was changed and abused for Nazi purposes. I know several foreigners who have come to Japan and asked why there are 'nazi symbols' at temples and I've explained why they are not, but also what they mean, and how Hitler admired the meaning and took it and warped it for his own purposes. Let people learn the true meaning of the symbol and how it is good, I say.

No need to change it at all, and doing so would be a huge disservice to all.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Guillaume VarèsJAN. 18, 2016 - 11:02AM JST If Korea did it, then Japan should be able to…

It appears you've misunderstood my comment. I never said Japan can't give its streets names. I'm saying the enormous amount of bureaucratic effort required to give every street a name is not at all comparable to the trivial amount of work involved in just editing the designs of maps intended for an international audience to change one symbol to make it more recognizable.

Personally I think a lot of these "Don't change the symbol!" comments are westerners reading their personal ideologies into an argument where that's not really necessary, but at least that's a debatable point. The_sherrif however was proposing an alternative task for GSI that is far, far more involved than the one they'd undertaken. I just don't think that's a realistic counter-proposal.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Also, in Japan the manji is always drawn with its prongs turning counter-clockwise, as opposed to the Nazi swastika’s clockwise twists.

Not true. It is drawn in both directions. And has been from thousands of years back. Do your research authors before publishing.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Keep the 卍. Don’t change it! Let them learn its true meaning instead. Changing it would only help keep the visitors ignorant.

I agree with most of the above comments. I would add that changing the symbol on the tourists’ maps would only add confusion when a lost tourist walks up to a Japanese person for direction, using their modified map.

And I wonder how many foreigners were actually bothered by the 卍. Some actual numbers (%) would be helpful.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

Keep the manji. Anyone with a basic education knows that the manji and the swastika symbolize two entirely different things. Much simpler and smarter to just educate people.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Replacing the Buddhist manji symbol with something else is not a good idea. Then you'd be depriving foreign visitors of a chance to learn an interesting part of Aian culture.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

By asking for the character to be removed they are the ones making the Nazi link... leave it alone!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

No, no and no. Don't change it. As has been pointed out by several contributors above, it has a specific meaning ... and doesn't have anything to do with Nazi Germany. This has been explained to me on various occasions previously ... and I get the meaning of the Buddhist manji symbol. Let newcomers to the symbol get the message, too ...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Did they really have to survey foreigners to figure out most of this stuff?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I really don't understand all the fuss. When I first came here, I had to take a second look on a ward map and wonder what the Japanese were up to. Then, when seeing the manji across the entire map, I realized it couldn't be what I initially thought. GSI, here's a thought that won't cost a whole lot of yen...put it down as a legend, along with forks/knives for restaurants, and stick women/men for toilets. Problem solved. But you probably have a million+ yen budget to deal with this enormous calamity. So never mind.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hate Hitler. I hate Hitler for many reasons. In this context I hate hitler for his theft of names and symbols. The swastika was used not only in Asia but also by Native Americans. People need to take their symbols back. Leave the Buddhist symbol alone. Do not legitimize Hitler's theft.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I agree they shouldn't change it. I've seen this type of symbol on native American items as well since I was young and never assumed it was only for Nazism. The only time I associate it with Nazism is if its' on a white circle with the red background and at a reversed angle.

Let's not get overly PC again to the point of destroying actual historic value based in different cultures.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The nazi swastika is reversed from the common form, look at the maps and you will see the difference. Even as an elementary school student I knew the difference between a nazi swastika and the common one. But as people become more stupid, we must of course dumb things down so as not to offend them. The normal swastika used to denote buddhist temples is ancient symbol for good luck or prosperity, and has a long tradition in both hinduism and buddhism.

The symbols should be left as they are, as removing them will only create more ignorance, and people will never learn what the real symbol means.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If people do not know the history of the manji, then that is THEIR problem.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Trying to preserve unique history is more important then being "politically correct". Quit trying to please everybody.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

More important than changing marks on the maps is providing a good key to the maps that explains all of the marks. This would take discipline on the part of the map makers - and perhaps would be difficult as it would admit that the maps were not complete before the keys were added.

If a pagoda sign is used for a temple, then it will confuse those of us who want to see a pagoda and can't find it at the temple. The 卍 is just fine. And the onsen mark, is that still used on some maps to indicate sento and other public baths that are not really onsen? A good map key is essential for a good map.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anyone ignorant enough to confuse the Nazi Swastika with the sign.., well, forget about them.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

That was funny when I first came here being the explorer I am I looked at all the maps and saw all these Nazi German symbols. Funnier were love hotels for 20-40 dollars. I said to my wife thats cheap. She said it doesnt include the girl. Strange country. As if from another planet. Sorry I dont click with you. At all.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Stupid stupid stupid. The manji and swastika are NOT the same. The Nazi symbol is angled at 45 degrees while the manji is always flat on one of the lines.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Someone might complain so we change things" What a stupid idea and wrong approach to diversity. as it always is such case.... I doubt that temples will remove the symbols from their offices as well...

How about something marvelous called " Education" ? You know, teach, learn, understand different thing, raise curiosity

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The reverse or feminine (moon, night, waning sun) sauvastika is less often used most non-Buddhists also probably do not realize this ancient symbol of harmony.... to the Hindu it is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune representing the four vedas.

a few short years of evil should not mean that his ancient symbol is forever co-opted.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has anyone enquired at the Israeli embassy? I would be interested in their opinion on this matter, after all, the Jewish people had good reason to fear that symbol. For millions of them it meant extermination which is perhaps the most difficult to come to terms with despite the logical understanding of its other meanings, reversed or not.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

The Nazi symbol is not the same. It is actually drawn opposite.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

We call it the swastika. However it is a very ancient symbol found all over the world. Even our American Indians used it. Here in New Mexico one of our local railroads used it as a symbol and the student year book at a local University was called The Swastika. Needless to say when we got into World War II it was dropped. However I think instead it would be better to teach the people the older meanings of it and stop stereotyping what was a positive symbol as evil.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Patrick Kimura-MackeJAN. 19, 2016 - 10:46AM JST

the Jewish people had good reason to fear that symbol. For millions of them it meant extermination which is perhaps the most difficult to come to terms with despite the logical understanding of its other meanings

What was the symbol of the Crusade? Should it be banned because Muslims fear it?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Leave the manji.

@Sensato The traditional crucifix is the creepiest thing ever and it's not because of "death penalty" connotations, but because it's a man with hands and feet nailed to a cross, with a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely. It kind of belongs in a SAW movie.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

thats the original swastika, the germans reversed it, and thought it had aryan origins. Anyhow, more PC, but I could understand the uninformed thinking its has nazi references.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think it is a good idea. In this world of tiny micro-bytes of attention paid by the general public (at least outside of Japan if not inside), written explanation is not something that should be expected clarify the situation.

Anyone online has had first hand experience of idiotic spleen venters who take any image they can to express indignation and report scandal without any thought given to the actual facts and try to make it go viral (as too many times it does).

The Olympics are about public relations and countries putting the best foot forward. No point in creating tourist literature that appears not only tone deaf but pigheaded to boot.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think, internationally, a pagoda would be more easily understood than a manji to represent a Buddhist temple, but that's just me and I certainly don't call for the manji to be removed from the actual temples.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The point I was trying to make regarding contacting the Israeli embassy was to find out their opinion. As far as I know neither Israel nor any Jewish organization has not complained about the Manji. If this is consistent then I see no reason for anyone to complain about it. I say keep it. To digress, as far as I know, crucifixions were done on 'T' shaped pieces of wood not crossed. Nails were driven through the lower arms just before the wrist not through the hands. I do not know to what extent Muslims complain about crucifixes but some certainly don't like the Star of David. The World and it's people are laughable, or would be if it wasn't for the killing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ridiculous. Keep the symbol.

It is a legitimate part of Japanese and Asian culture and history. The vast majority of tourists and other foreigners in Japan are from Asia and are completely aware of its association to Buddhism and Hinduism. The symbol is understood and visible in India, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and non-Buddhist majority Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in the region. Billions of people are fully aware of its original and true meaning.

The designer of these new symbols is taking a very western-centric approach to their use and interpretation.

In addition, most Westerners in Japan or who have visited Japan are not overly confused by the symbol, and confusion is quickly removed when explained on a map legend. Keep the symbol but ensure there is a legend to explain to the minority who are ignorant. Tourists travel to see new things and to learn about a culture and country. Use this as an opportunity to teach tourists about the local culture and customs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Do not pander to foeigners' ignorance. They will either be educated and know what the symbol means when they arrive or have a great opportunity to learn something new.

Remove ignorance rather than protecting it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites