The bicycle touring experience is determined by a jagged, uninterrupted path, as opposed to an itinerary. That’s really all there is to it—a scratch in the terrain, a maze through a city, a line on a map.

I love maps, not least for what they represent—unknown, unseen, unexperienced places. There is beauty in functional maps: the texture of the paper, the colour combinations, the patterns depicting features and locations, the topographical description. Beautiful maps can be appreciated for their ascetic values like any form of design.

When I’m travelling I use maps all the time and not only for direction. In foreign places the map is a powerful communicative tool, sometimes the only means of communication. An explanation, a story, a history lesson, a perplexing riddle, an encounter, a friendship, a memory; maps represent so much.

Hand drawn maps, like handwriting, are as varied and unique as their authors. They can be messy, illegible, creative or precise. There are extensive studies of handwriting analysis but I wonder what might be learnt about character if the same analysis is applied to map drawing. I have collected stacks of maps that I’ve used over the years, including wads of scraps of paper, often sketched by strangers to assist me in getting from A to B.

Below is a selection of scribbles that have helped me out during my time in Japan.


  1. Anonymous says

    I did a few weeks of cycling in Japan and was blown away by the sheer detail of their maps. The Shobunsha ‘touring mapple’ series are some very impressive maps.

    • Benji says

      I agree! The Touring Mapple series (specifically for bike touring in Japan) is unique with every scenic route and onsen marked out. My Touring Mapple of hokkaido is well worn.

  2. simon jackson says

    BRW – Are the map-makers using their own pens/writing instrunments?
    It would be interesting to see some “drawn” with a finger on the beach or scratched with a knife into a park bench! Next time give them some coloured pencils so they can add colour to their art!

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