Lest this post should come across as a rant against the Tokyo subway system, let me preface this post by expressing my great admiration for public transport here. I think it might qualify as one of the wonders of the modern world.

But I do have problems with the maps…

In my last blog post I promised to show some examples of Tokyo subway maps – I'll just show some examples today. I will try to work some of my thoughts about this tomorrow.

First of all – something simple. A schematic of a single subway line – the Oedo line. This photo was taken on the Oedo platform at my local station:


I like it. It's really simple. It shows me just the information that I need when I've already made it to the right platform and I just want to verify how many stops I must go to my destination. The diagram is a simplification of the real route of the subway line, but it's easy to see how it relates to the real city of Tokyo – for example, it shows Hikarigaoka on the left side (to the West of Tokyo), where it belongs. I find it easy to follow.

(You can just see the edge of a map of the entire subway system on the right side. That's handy too).

But on the other side of the platform….. For some reason, the Toei subway authority decided that passengers facing the opposite direction need to see the map rotated by 180 degrees:


So, it now looks like Hikarigaoka is off to the East – and my location now appears to be in the South of Tokyo.

Confused?  Then you're in the same situation as just about any Tokyo-ite that I show this to…. Those two images may be topologically equivalent, but it doesn't help the user to invert the image based on the direction he happens to be facing. Personally, I find it rather challenging to have my expectations confounded in this way. It's a bit like seeing a globe with Australia in the upper hemisphere for the first time – shocking.

It seems to me that the Toei subway company has an army of map creators – each of whom has a different idea about the proper purpose of his map – which determines the emphasis given to various features.

At my local station, I was able to find:

(1) A map which is relatively faithful to the real, physical geography of Tokyo.


(2) A map with letters denoting every line and numbers denoting every station – to enable Japanese people to more easily give directions to non-Japanese speakers.


(3) A map that emphasizes the convenience and simplicity of using the Oedo line, which encircles much of central Tokyo and has connections with many other subway lines


(4) Another abstraction of the Oedo line to show the last train times


(5) Another abstraction of the Oedo line and the other Toei subway company lines to show where to buy commuter tickets


(6) A map to show fares on the Toei subway company's subway lines


(7) A map to show fares on other private railway lines


and there were at least half a dozen other maps, which I won't bother  posting here. That's all in one station.

But… Tokyo has two subway companies. SO if you go to a "Tokyo Metro" station, you will see another gamut of maps, which tend to give greater emphasis to "Tokyo Metro" lines than they do to Toei subway lines:


Sorry if this is getting boring – I'm just trying to point out that there seems to be a lack of "joined up thinking" in all of these maps. Of course, I realize that the map creators are trying very hard to convey some extremely complex information. But …

I'll try to bring my thoughts together into a cohesive argument tomorrow.