In Japan, maps find new life as fans

FOLDING fans made out of discarded old maps made by the Japan Map Center (JMC) have proved to be enormously popular.

With sales fuelled by social media, a number of versions have sold out since going on sale in May.

The JMC is a general incorporated foundation based in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, which prints and sells topographical maps from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI). The spread of s martphones and other technology has left the centre with an enormous stock of paper maps.

The JMC’s regular work involves selling aerial photographs, conducting research on maps, and public education activities.

The topographical maps it sells are constantly being updated by GSI with changes to land, elevation and other information. The centre then wholesales these updated maps to bookstores nationwide, as well as selling them directly. The old maps are no longer needed, and dealing with the leftover stock has become a problem.

A fan made of a topographical map sold by the Japan Map Center
A fan made of a topographical map sold by the Japan Map Center
RIGHT: The kanji characters for Shinjuku Gyoen are visible in the foreground of this fan sold by the Japan Map Center
The kanji characters for Shinjuku Gyoen are visible in the foreground of this fan sold by the Japan Map Center

The centre has used maps slated for disposal as printer paper and made them into notepads. Still, with more people owning smartphones and fewer people using paper maps, the JMC has been burdened with an enormous number of old maps.

In trying to figure out what to do, the centre hit upon the idea of turning them into fans.

The JMC employee in charge of the project said they searched 1:25,000 scale maps for geographical features that would show famous spots and other landmarks when made into folding fans. Nine different types were selected.

Shikoku Dansen Co, a fan maker based in Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture, was contracted to produce 1,000 fans.

The Kanazawa fan includes Kanazawa Station and Kenrokuen garden. A western Tokyo fan is centred around Shinjuku Station, and was arranged to show the Diet building and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

The fans were first made available by mail order and at the centre’s shop.

“It’s not like we had a big advertising campaign,” said a surprised Hiroyuki Inoue, of JMC’s production department. “We realised there are a lot of peoplewho can enjoy maps in unconventional ways.”

Six varieties, including the popular Mt Hotaka fan, are slated to go on sale in late June. Fans that feature Mt Norikura and Yonagunijima island were newly added to the line-up. – Text and Photos by The Japan News/Yomiuri