Japan may change Manji symbol to avoid Nazi swastika confusion

Foreign tourists often mistake the traditional Buddhist symbol with the Nazi swastika

Tokyo: 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?

Manji symbol
Manji symbol. PIC/Thinkstock

The symbol, from ancient Sanskrit, means happiness and prosperity. But many Western tourists associate it with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust because the emblem was adopted by Nazi Germany.

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, a government proposed a three-tiered pagoda symbol to replace the swastika. It is one of 18 suggested icons for landmarks part of a broader push to create user-friendly maps for the growing number of foreign tourists. A final decision is expected in late March following a period of seeking public comment.

However, Japan’s main Buddhist group is nonchalant because the change doesn’t affect domestic maps and therefore won’t alter perceptions at home.

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