I use the Mapple app on my phone for maps. Mapple is a free app by Shobunsha Publications that lets you buy the electronic version of the same paper maps that you would buy for 1000 yen at Mont Bell. Each map download costs 500 yen but my bank statement always shows $3.99.
What’s nice about this app is that it takes the huge, folding, and difficult to consult paper maps and makes them very easy to regularly access on your phone. As an added bonus, when you are physically located within the range of your map, such a on a trail, it can track your location very accurately, which is a big deal especially if you can’t read Japanese writing. This is useful when you’re on a trail with many junctions or junctions spaced close to each other and you want to make sure you’ve taken the correct trail. I’ve found that this tracking system works whether you have cell phone reception or not (but you do have to be out of airplane mode).
Limitations. The maps are in Japanese. They use katakana, hiragana, and kanji for notes, tips, warnings, names, etc. If you are particularly interested in a note and you can’t read Japanese, you can take a screenshot of the map with your phone and use an app such as Google translate to get an idea of what it is saying. This works for signs that you encounter along the trail also.
Another limitation is that you always have to be concerned with the status of your phone battery. You can mitigate this problem in a couple of ways.
- Buy a portable battery pack that will give your phone about 2 or 3 full charges.
- Always store your phone either off or in airplane mode (airplane mode is recommended while hiking because you can quickly turn airplane mode off to check your location at trail junctions).
So, I’m going to walk you through the basics of how to use this app from the perspective of someone who can’t speak or read Japanese.
1. Download the app, you may find it easier to locate by searching for “Shobunsha Publications.” The app looks like this:
2. Open the app and click on the top wooden sign. Not sure what the other signs do.
3. The next screen shows all of the maps you’ve already purchased. At the very bottom, there’s a bluish-gray button. This is how you buy new maps.
4. Now for people that can’t read Japanese, here come’s the weird part. To find the map that you want to buy (and assuming that you’re hiking the Hyakumeizan), what I do is I go to Wes Lang’s site , match the Japanese Kanji to the hike you want to do, and compare that to the list of maps available on Mapple. It’s really an exercise in shape recognition, because since you can’t read kanji, you’re just matching shapes (you’ll find this skill useful on hiking trails too because they aren’t in English either).
5. When you buy a new map, it charges the credit card that you set up for your Apple account. I don’t know how this works for Android, but I would assume it is similar. Once you’ve purchased and downloaded the map, you can go back to the list of maps that you purchased (step 3), click on your map and it will open. Remember, if you aren’t within physical range of that map, it won’t be able to track your position.
And there you have it. Now, there are a few things that you should memorize on these maps.
a. The blue teardrop with white kanji is water (I assume water suitable for drinking for the most part)
b. Yellow circles with black kanji are warnings of dangerous areas, which usually require a scramble of some sort.
c. Black circle with white kanji, I think, are markers of a small shrine or stele (I had to wiki it).
d. The houses with the colored in roofs are mountain huts. A sansou is a large mountain hut, a goya or in some cases koya are smaller mountain huts. These are seasonally manned. The ones without the colored in roofs are usually emergency huts, which are unmanned.
e. Dotted lines represent difficult terrain, chains, or areas with some degree of exposure.
f. The numbers on the trail lines are estimated time to hike a section of trail. I’ve found that in uphill sections I’m about 50 percent faster than the map time, and in downhill sections I’m about 25 percent faster than the map time. For really difficult sections, I’m about equal to map time.
Try it out, with a little bit of practice, it should work great for hiking in Japan.