Sep 23, 2013

    Tokyo plans foreigner friendly signs

    IN PREPARATION for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, Japan has started to change street signs in tourist spots and other areas from romanised Japanese to English to make them easier for foreigners to understand.

    For example, "Kokkai" has been changed to "The National Diet". "Zaimusho" will become "Min. of Finance".

    "'Tocho' is a useless word because foreigners have no idea what it means," Ms Erica Fultz, a 27-year-old English teacher, said in Japanese. "It took four months for me to understand what '-mae' means."

    Ms Fultz, from the United States, came to Japan four years ago. She said she felt confused every time she saw street signs in romaji letters.

    Strange street signs are everywhere in Tokyo.

    For example, around the Tokyo metropolitan government office, two kinds of signs - "Tocho" and "Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office" - can be seen. For "Shinjukuchuokoen", some street signs use "park" for koen but others write "koen".

    Further examples of signs to be changed include Kaminarimon, a tourist spot in front of Sensoji temple in Tokyo, which will be re-written as "Kaminarimon Gate" - "mon" means gate in Japanese.

    However, Toranomon, a business district, will continue to be written as "Toranomon", as there is no gate there.

    "Because the maps and booklets foreign travellers have are written in English , they can't understand those street signs at all," Ms Fultz said.

    How did this confusion occur?

    According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the government's revised order concerning street signs, which was issued in 1986, seems to be the cause of the problem.

    Under the order, the government instructed that street signs be written in the Roman alphabet, along with the original Japanese. However, the government did not say whether they should be written in romanised Japanese or English.

    Street signs that are difficult to understand for foreigners have spread throughout the nation.

    Street signs will also be changed in 49 regions, including other areas in central Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo and Fukuoka.