Graphic designer Mie Takahashi describes herself as a "pictorial map artisan," and she is not likely to get lost anytime soon.
To date, Takahashi has created over 200 maps, including ones of Sumida Ward, where the Tokyo Skytree has just opened, and Obuse town in Nagano Prefecture, where ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika produced some of his most famous works.
Takahashi features not only places of scenic and historical interest in her maps but also other local sights, and adds illustrations of people walking and regional specialties.
"I always draw people in my maps," she says. "They're wonderfully eye-catching."
The nature of the finished product varies according to the type of paper, pens, pencils, and other utensils that Takahashi uses.
"The information you get from sensory elements, like the look of each line and the feel of the paper, is easier to absorb than cold, hard data," she says.
Takahashi walks through towns and villages, talks to the local people, and reads local publications and historical resources to help her decide what to illustrate. She is very particular about drawing to accurate scale.
Her eye for discovering hidden highlights has proven popular, and she frequently receives requests to give lectures on town walks at culture centers and other venues.
A pictorial map she drew two years ago of a walking course through Tokyo's old neighborhoods has been turned into a smartphone application with GPS and Twitter functionality.
When making pictorial maps, it is also important to be bold about discarding information. Takahashi thinks of a route that is easiest to walk for a first-time visitor, and leaves out unnecessary streets and alleys.
"As I draw, I select only the information I want to convey," she says. "It actually comes across better if the map only features necessary information."
These selections and omissions display an artist's unique perspective and individuality.
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It is now possible to make your very own city guidebook. Italian stationery brand Moleskine's City Notebook features a map on which users can write information, and an index where they can jot down the details of shops, historic sites, or practically anything else.
Editions for 33 cities in Europe and the United States, including New York and London, went on sale in 2007, and the following year four Asian cities were added, among them Tokyo and Beijing. In 2009, 7,000 of the City Notebooks were sold in Japan.
Hand-drawn maps are also becoming widely used in the classroom. Competitions for children are held around the country that reward artistic expression and interesting perspectives. Entries for a children's map competition run by the Geospatial Informational Authority of Japan, which holds an exhibition of the best works, have doubled in the last 10 years to over 7,000.
They display a diverse range of innovative ideas, such as a focus on LED traffic signals and detailed information on local Japanese confectionery.
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