Fast forward to this past summer when I returned to Japan and tried to plan my route to the Tokyo Google office using Google Maps. Again, I couldn't make sense of the subway station names. Well, this time I could do something about it. This week we will be releasing English labels of city names, prefectures, districts and transit station names in Japan. We have used a combination of transliteration (local pronunciation into English alphabet) and translation so that "Shibuya Eki" would read as "Shibuya Station", for example. We thought it would be more helpful to transliterate the name but let users know the difference between a city or a station. We've even used macrons so "Tokyo" reads as "Tōkyō" to help with pronunciation.
As it turns out, I wasn't the only one having problems reading kanji. Users have been asking for this for a long time. Back in February, the Maps team got the ball rolling with major city names and now, we're working towards adding more English labels. In the future, you can look forward to additional coverage with street names and other points of interest.