It wasn’t until we were planning to drive in Japan that we discovered it was not as easy as initially thought. The difficult part has nothing to do with traffic conditions or driving behaviour, but that Japan uses a different navigation system from the rest of the world (well, most of it anyway).
While many of us are familiar with using geographic coordinates (e.g. 48.854325°) to locate places, Japan uses a proprietary navigation system developed by Denso called MapCode (マップコード), “which enables accurate pinpointing with a six- to 10-digit number that is predetermined according to latitude and longitude.” (link)
For non-Japanese speaking travellers who are looking to drive in Japan, one main problem would be finding the exact locations of places. For one, you cannot pre-save map codes on a SD card like you would normally do for coordinates on a GPS device. In this case, you’ll need to have the map codes on hand for keying into the navigation device on your rental car. Here is a list of some map codes as provided by our car rental company in Japan.
Alternatively, you can also key in telephone numbers of the places on the navigation device, provided they are up-to-date. Unlike telephone numbers, map codes are location-specific, so you know you will arrive at the exact locations as indicated on the maps.
Finding map codes
While doing research for our driving trip, I noticed there was very little information online on how to find map codes for specific places in Japan. Thus, I have come up with a guide on how to find map codes to help travellers who intend to drive in Japan.
- Go to Mapion — www.mapion.co.jp .
- Enter the location in the search box. Make sure that you are searching in “通常検索” (normal search).
— The location should preferably be in Japanese as the database may not have the location in English. If you have only the English name for the location, you can easily search online for its Japanese name.
- Click on the location link as returned by the search results.
- Click on the “地図で確認” (check map).
— I mentioned earlier that there is an alternative to find a location on the navigation device by keying in the telephone number (indicated by blue box).
- Hover over the “便利ツール” (easy tool), and a drop-down menu appears. Select “地図URL” (URL of map).
- Ta-da! Here’s the map code for the location that you have searched for.
If you wish to verify a location using map code, go to Mapion and type in the map code. However, make sure that you search under “マップコード” (map code) in this case, instead of “通常検索” (normal search) as in Step 2.
How map codes are derived
Denso breaks down the whole of Japan into 1162 zones, where each zone is made up of 900 blocks, and each block is in turn made up of 900 units. Each unit measures around 30m on each side. The composition of a MapCode is 4+3+3=10 numbers; the first four numbers represent the zone, the subsequent three numbers represent the block and the last three numbers represent the unit.
Some map codes come with an asterisk * followed by more numbers. These are the HR (high-resolution) map codes which have even higher precision, down to the square area of 3m x 3m.
* “マップコード”, “MAPCODE” are registered trademarks of Denso ㈱デンソー.