Japan May Ditch Old Symbol Over Swastika Confusion

The 'manji' identifies Buddhist temples on maps
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 5, 2016 11:46 AM CST
Japan May Ditch Old Symbol Over Swastika Confusion
A "manji" sign is seen in Tokyo.   (Eugene Hoshiko)

As Japan gears up to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and caters to a surging influx of foreign visitors, the country faces a cultural dilemma: Should it stop identifying Buddhist temples on maps with the traditional "manji" symbol that is often confused with a Nazi swastika? The symbol, from ancient Sanskrit, means happiness and prosperity and has been used for centuries by Hindus and Buddhists, reports the AP. But many Western tourists associate it with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust because the emblem was adopted by Nazi Germany to try to enhance a sense of ancient lineage. The swastika in Japan—which usually points counter-clockwise, the reverse of the Nazi symbol—has been used for centuries in Buddhist decorations and to denote Buddhist temples on maps.

In a report released last month, based on survey results collected from more than 1,000 foreigners, a government panel proposed a three-tiered pagoda symbol to replace the swastika. It is one of 18 suggested icons for landmarks like hospitals and convenience stores for foreign-language maps, part of a broader push to create user-friendly maps for the growing number of foreign tourists, which jumped more than 40% last year. A final decision is expected in late March. Japan's main Buddhist group is nonchalant because the change doesn't affect domestic maps and therefore likely won't alter perceptions at home. But public opinion seems divided online, with some arguing the symbol should be kept as a way to teach people about the ancient history behind it. (Read more 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games stories.)

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