Photograph: jpupdates.com

Japan will stop using a swastika symbol and some others on maps for overseas visitors as they are deemed confusing and even offensive, the government said Friday.

The swastika has ancient origins and has been used for many centuries as a religious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions. It denotes a temple on Japanese maps, but it was also appropriated by Nazi Germany as its main symbol on flags and uniforms.

The Japanese map symbol will be replaced with an image of three-storey pagoda when a set of 18 new designs are officially adopted at the end of March.

A large X that indicates a police box is also hard to understand for non-Japanese tourists, said Takayuki Nakamura, an official in charge of the project at GSI. That will be replaced with an image of a saluting officer.

The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) has been working to the new symbols to make understandable maps for foreign tourists amid an increasing number of visitors from abroad, Nakamura said.

The changes will come at a time when “the government is making a concerted effort to promote a tourism-oriented country and Japan will also host the Rugby World Cup [in 2019] and the Tokyo Olympics in [2020]," Nakamura said.

In order to work on the new symbols, the GSI set up a panel of experts and surveyed 1,017 people, including embassy staff in Tokyo, non-Japanese students and tourists on the streets.

The new designs will only be applied to non-Japanese maps for now, Nakamura said.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached a record 19.7 million in 2015, up 47 per cent from the previous year, thanks to a weaker yen and relaxed visa rules for tourists from Asian countries, the Japan Tourism Agency said Tuesday.

These visitors spent an estimated 3.48 trillion yen (29.5 billion dollars), also hitting a new record, the agency said.

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