Tuning into signals from roadside maps

Orienting ourselves with locally-made, map-based signage is an act of taking on a perspective that matters to someone. I find it delightful, and a welcome break from the algorithmic A to B route-making that we do on our apps…

Let me take you on a little photo walk of the Hokuto/Yatsugatake area in Japan.

Starting with an illustrated landmark map — a classic!

Note the finger pointing to the museum we were headed towards, with Google Maps open on the phone in the same hand. The size and height of this sign invites the group to wayfind together.

This was a railway map at the station.

On the left are the station names in JA/EN, marked with connections to other lines. On the right is its elevation. We learn that the 5 highest railway stations in Japan are on this Koumi Line, and those rankings are noted accordingly.

Here’s another sign that wants to tell us it’s Top.

It traces the mountain range and marks the three tallest mountains in Japan that are visible from this spot. It’s placed as a low, sideway rectangle, so you raise your head to look out admiringly into the horizon.

This is a retired sign from a bicycle rental shop.

I like this perspective for communicating elevation, which is crucial for planning a bike route. The sparseness of the illustrations invite imagination and agency. Your day, your route.

Fireflies live out their lives here, as communicated by the Firefly Association (70 members!) at this park. There’s a timeline at the bottom, depicting the state of firefly which you’re prob not going to see.

The larger message is that the park is being tended to. People care.

This residential neighborhood has grouped some of the museums within walking distance to make a course. The map includes parks and shrines as other potential stops along the way, and the local post office to help with wayfinding.

That's all I've got for now.

Have you seen an interesting map sign recently?