Yahoo STILL beats Google for mapping Japan, 4+ years later

Reprising a topic which I brought up in 2006, it seems that Google’s mapping team still needs to get its act together when it comes to covering Japan. Their map data is nearly a year out of date, while Yahoo seems to update its maps almost in real time.

I’ll focus on Tokyo area airports in this post, since they are one of my primary target areas of geekery. Here is Google’s map of the area surrounding Narita Airport rapid access line, which opened last summer:

View Larger Map

Note that the line doesn’t show up at all (though its timetable data is loaded into the transit directions engine, and the route will be vaguely highlighted if you search for it). On the other hand, Yahoo is completely up to date:

Now here is Google’s map of Haneda Airport, where a new international terminal opened back in October. Of course, they haven’t gotten around to updating yet, though they at least managed to include an icon showing one (but not both) of the new international terminal’s railway stations.

View Larger Map

Yahoo again is totally up to date, showing the full terminal building, the surrounding tarmac AND both stations (zoom in to see them).

So what gives? Both services are apparently getting map data from the same company (Zenrin) so you would think their maps would have almost identical content. One possibility, corroborated by the copyright legends at the bottom of the maps, is that Google is relying totally on Zenrin while Yahoo makes its own updates pending full updates from Zenrin. Another possibility is that Google simply doesn’t demand updates from Zenrin as often because their Maps team is based outside Japan and has no clue how much construction goes on here.

18 thoughts on “Yahoo STILL beats Google for mapping Japan, 4+ years later”

  1. What you’re also forgetting is that Yahoo Japan is now an almost totally independent company from Yahoo, and this is painfully obvious if you try and look up maps of Japan on rather than The Google map data might be slightly out of date, but map of Japan is completely useless!

  2. There are several ways in which Google Maps is still better though. One, it has Streetview. Two, it has a map/satellite combo view, which Yahoo lacks. Three, the satellite data seems to be higher resolution. Three, it’s multilingual, displaying and accepting searched in either Japanese or English, while Yahoo Japan maps only understands Japanese (including Romaji). Four, the Google maps interface is full of less distracting crap.

    However, Yahoo Japan also gets major points for including a 地下街 view, which is pretty sweet in applicable areas, and a good example of how their detailed map data is still better than Google, even if it is inferior in some other ways.

    Oh, and I just noticed that if you have Google Earth installed, it now plugs seamlessly right into Google Maps in the browser with its 3D view acting like just another viewing mode, which is totally sweet.

  3. The Google map data might be slightly out of date, but map of Japan is completely useless!

    Good point.

    Another fun exercise is to look at China in both the [mainland] Chinese version of Google Maps ( and the non-Chinese version of Google Maps.

    While we’re at it, Microsoft’s Bing search engine has even older maps than either Google or Yahoo — not even showing the new runway at Haneda. And yes, they are also a Zenrin customer.

  4. What Roy said in his first comment. It’s particularly horrible if you’re using Flickr, which uses Yahoo map data instead of the flavor. I was very happy to learn about this bookmarklet that lets you use Google’s stuff instead of’s stuff.

  5. The other area where I have constantly found Yahoo more reliable is Japanese address lookup. Though it’s improving, Google seems to make a “best guess” based on some algorithm, which often puts you on the wrong side of a block, or even in a neighbouring block, whereas I’ve always found Yahoo to be spot on.

  6. Curzon, you inspired me to poke around the app store, and there’s a freebie called Yahoo!地図 in there. Downloading it now.

  7. Durf, and that leads me to Yahoo Japan’s biggest piece of stupidity yet – that app is only available through the Japan store! I have iTunes on the American store because I only had an American credit card when I bought the phone (and that’s all I have again, incidentally) and this is the first time I’ve looked for a Japanese app that wasn’t cross-listed!

  8. But hey, I can always have someone else email me their downloaded copy of the FREE app, jailbreak my phone, and then finally install it!

  9. You could (probably) also start another account using a Japanese Apple Gift card. Which is how I get music from both the Canadian and Japanese iTunes Music store on my iPod without a Japanese credit card. I don’t have an iPhone/iPod touch/iPad so I’m not sure if the mechanics are the same for apps.

    It seems a bit much just to get 1 free app though.

  10. Roy, if you really want to use both stores without applying for another credit card, one way to do it is to just get the cheapest iTunes gift card here in Japan. That is how I use the US store without a US credit card. It came in handy when I wanted to put both the and apps into my iPhone.

    By the way, the Yahoo! Japan map app is nothing to write home about, although it does allow you to search by keywords, so for instance you can do a fairly quick search of ramen shops in the immediate area.

    But as far as the relative speed of updates, I did a search on the keyword 東京スカイツリー, only to find out that Yahoo! simply has the construction site, and the expected date of completion. I get an intrusive ad in the lower left of the screen, and no street view or bird’s eye view. Google maps has the same or older ZENRIN data, but if I zoom in to street view, I get to see the partly completed tower.

  11. I’ve never experimented with using multiple stores linked to the same device but it’s worth trying just for the hell of it. I had completely forgotten about the gift cards even though I know that a LOT of J-pop fans living in other countries by Japanese iTunes gift cards on ebay for that purpose. And of course all those Japanese people without credit cards need to buy gift cards to purchase anything, right?

    “Google maps has the same or older ZENRIN data, but if I zoom in to street view, I get to see the partly completed tower.”
    Yahoo seems to use slightly older map data, but Google’s satellite imagery is often both newer and higher quality. I think Microsoft’s satellite imagery is comparable with Google, but nobody has had the audacity to try and match the street level imagery of Google Street View. And I kind of look forward to having Google Maps on an Android phone, where you can now even get the 3D building data from Google Earth.

  12. I can tell you from personal knowledge that Yahoo Japan has a team of people in every region dedicated to mapping. One of my friends here in Nagoya works on that team for the Chubu region and they get mapping data directly from the mapping departments of cities, prefectures, utilities and train companies themselves… Zenrin is used as a “broker” of the data and to “fill in gaps” that they don’t have data for. In exchange Zenrin gets more detailed info to pass on to everyone else.

    That being said, Google is supposed to be looking to merge its Japan maps with Yahoo data sometime in 2011; remember Google Search is officially used by Yahoo Japan.

  13. I know this has discussion has died, but I’ve been out of the loop for a while.

    “Another possibility is that Google simply doesn’t demand updates from Zenrin as often because their Maps team is based outside Japan and has no clue how much construction goes on here.”

    Of course the primary team is in CA, but they appear to have a local maps “team” as well, e.g.,

    Though this team could very well be made up of only a couple of people who have other responsibilities.

    牧田信弘 appears to be the mobile maps product manager.

    Personally, I think Gmaps have greatly improved for use in Japan.

    They recently improved the L and L issue resulting from locking language to locale. Gmap’s search algorithm used to handle kanji search terms differently depending on which portal was used. Using the domain worked around this on a computer. On their android app at least, the only option was to set the system language to Japanese.

    Roy mentioned that Gmaps are multilingual. This is also an area in which improvement was made. It took a while, but they eventually listened to the complaints of Japanese abroad and added local language (in addition to just katakana) to the map tiles rendered from the domain.

    Showing a map with 1600 アンフィシアター・パークウェイ to a Cali taxi driver isn’t going to get you very far.

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