7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo

Train stations in Tokyo can be very confusing even for Japanese people. But this confusion probably has more to do with the design of stations and the sheer density of people busily criss-crossing their concourses. Certainly, for English speaking travelers, navigating Tokyo’s rail network should be comparatively easy because so much information, particularly that relating to JR and subway lines and destinations, appears as English subtext on Japanese signs. Similarly, internationally recognised symbols are widely used throughout Japan. However, here are a few additional tips on reading Japanese signs as you travel around Tokyo.



 

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo

 

1. Traveling by Train

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_jr

One Japanese sign that travelers should learn to read are rail maps, whether the large displays at stations or in pocket form. Many foreign visitors purchase a JR (Japan Railway) pass ahead of their visit without realizing that this will not allow them to travel on the many independent metro lines in Tokyo. If you look at such maps, you will see the JR lines appear in black and white, whereas metro lines appear in a variety of colors. Individual stations are circled and have a number. From this, it is easy to see where JR and metro lines interchange and plan your journeys accordingly.

 

2. Platforms

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_platform sign

The typical Japanese signs on railway platforms show the station name in Kanji (Chinese characters), the name in hiragana (Japanese cursive syllabary, because not all Japanese may know the Kanji), and lastly in Romanised form. Keep an eye out for the station where you need to get off or change trains to avoid missing your stop!

 

3. Entrances and Exits

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_exit

It may be useful to learn to recognise the kanjis used for entrance, 入口 ‘iriguchi’, and exit, 出口 ‘deguchi’, as these are common Japanese signs in various contexts. At stations, directions to ticket machines (which all have English menus) and platforms will be clearly marked. At some older stations you may still see the word のりば (noriba) indicating the platforms. Noriba is also used for taxi ranks and bus stops. Visiting places of interest often means exiting a station from a particular gate, and Japanese signs indicate these by points of the compass. The ‘West Gate’, for example, is usually shown in English, but you may find it useful to know the kanji for compass points, just in case: 北 (kita = North), 南 (minami = South), 西 (nishi = West), and 東 (higashi = East).

 

4. Rest Rooms

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_restroom

These are usually easy to find from directions and universal male/female symbols, but some out of the way locations may still use the traditional Japanese sign for WC: お手洗い ‘oteari’. It is also useful to recognize the kanji for male and female, especially if your travels include time spent at spas, public baths or at traditional inns. They are: 男 ‘otoko’ for men, and 女 ‘onna’ for women.

 

5. Food

Most stations have either a floor where you can find restaurants, or are adjacent to eateries, and visitors will have no problems finding popular or family style restaurants. However, many smaller traditional noodle and sushi restaurants are harder to spot from outside and may appear hidden away. Look for banners or paper lanterns showing: そば soba, うどん udon, ラーメン ramen, or すし sushi.

 

6. Driving in Tokyo

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_tomare

If you hire a car during your visit, you will find few problems understanding the signs because they are generally universal and place names are Romanised. On smaller streets, especially close to schools and kindergartens, you may see signs or banners saying とまれ! ‘tomare’. This can mean ‘stop’ but is usually a caution, asking you to take care.

 

7. Other Japanese Signs

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo_non-smoke

Smoking in public places is generally banned in Tokyo, especially while walking. Always look for designated smoking points but be aware that in some wards there may be a blanket ban and fines for breaking them! Look for no smoking signs printed on pavements. If you are using a bicycle to get around, look for signs, especially printed on pavements, where no bicycle parking is allowed, especially around stations. As with most major cities in the world, you will find few rubbish receptacles in Tokyo, so take your rubbish away with you! Rubbish is separated in Japan, so when you do find rubbish bins, be sure to put your waste into the correct ones; they are always clearly markeds with symbols.

 

Conclusion

With the 2020 Japan Olympics likely to bring an even greater number of foreign visitors, there will be more efforts to improve Japanese signs, particularly at railway stations, and in more languages. But for now, English speaking visitors at least can navigate the rail network with relative ease, even if the ever bustling stations themselves can appear daunting.

 

7 Guides on Japanese Signs for Easier Travel in Tokyo

1. Traveling by Train
2. Platforms
3. Entrances and Exits
4. Rest Rooms
5. Food
6. Driving in Tokyo
7. Other Japanese Signs