(compass icon indicates north is down and to the left)
This system can be difficult for Westerners whose brains are hardwired to believe that north is up in a map.
Why?In the West maps always are oriented with North at the top. Once you figure out which direction is North — you're set. Many people develop an innate sense for the Northerly direction that allows them to instantly understand any north-oriented map.
In Japan, school children are taught that the first step to reading a map is to turn the map until it's oriented to the direction you're facing.
Books and WebsitesMaps in Japanese books and on websites are oriented with North up as in the West.
Mobile MapsMany Japanese mobile map applications are designed to be oriented to the direction you're facing. That means the map is constantly spinning as you turn. This can be a challenge until you become accustomed to it.
AdaptingNever assume a Japanese map is oriented to the North (even if it has no compass icon). It's almost always oriented to the direction you're facing.
Believe it or not, this is convenient when you become accustomed to it. The best way to adapt to Japanese maps is to forget about North, South, East, West altogether.
Looking at a Japanese map you can instantly understand if something is to your right or left. Whether its in front of you or behind you. This is the way to think about maps in Japan.
If you are matching up a printed map (or north-oriented mobile map) to a street map — just turn the paper (or device) until they match.