Destinations Asia

Japan Mandates Street Signs Include English Translation for Tourists

Apr 04, 2014 4:00 am

Skift Take

Attention to detail will increase as Japan readies to host visitors from around the world for the 2020 Olympics.

— Samantha Shankman

Win an All-Expenses Paid Trip to NYC to Tour the Future of Travel

Madeline Tompkins  / Flickr

A cute sign for hot springs in Japan. Madeline Tompkins / Flickr


Foreign tourists in Japan will have a less confusing time trying to identify roads and landmarks thanks to the introduction of standardized English words and eradication of “Romanized” Japanese words on public signs, transport ministry officials said.

Revised transport ministry guidelines that took effect Tuesday require that signs showing the name of a street, avenue or boulevard use those words or their abbreviations, instead of relying only on the word “dori,” the catch-all Japanese equivalent.

In the case of an established road name, such as Tokyo’s Aoyama-dori, the new guidelines allow use of the traditional Japanese name but requires that “Ave.” be added to make it “Aoyama-dori Ave.”

A notable exception will be road signs pointing to hot springs, which are now required to use the word “Onsen” instead of variously being called hot spring or spa, as is currently the case. This is because the word onsen is internationally known, according to Ryo Takata, an official in the Road Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

The new guidelines were introduced as part of the government’s drive to attract foreign tourists, Takata said. The ministry is considering ways to make use of multiple languages in museums, parks, tourist sites, roads and public transportation, a subject discussed by an advisory panel of experts commissioned by the ministry. The latest revision reflects the outcome of this discussion.

In addition to the panel’s advice, the revisions reflect the results of a ministry survey of foreign tourists, in which many respondents expressed difficulty in interpreting road signs and reading maps due to the use of inconsistent translated words, according to Masaki Kojima, another Road Bureau official.

Standardized translations for street signs, which include words like “station,” “airport,” “city hall,” “hospital” and “river,” will be implemented by the transport ministry, which is responsible for national roads, as well as prefectural and municipal governments.

Updating road signs could take decades depending on the area because implementation of the new standards can wait until signs are scheduled for replacement. Even so, the ministry is encouraging early usage.

In fact, roads in 48 areas that are popular with foreign tourists, including Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and Beppu, a noted hot springs resort in Oita Prefecture, have already implemented them, according to Kojima.

“We are hoping that local governments motivated to promote tourism will act early,” he said.

The new guidelines are only a first step toward setting a standard for both road signs and maps, Kojima said.

“That’s the most important point, but this time the target was road signs only,” he said. “In the future, we’ll have to think of strategies to reflect these changes on guide maps and websites.”

Other mandatory English words for road signs include port, parking, tunnel, bridge, castle, museum of art, prefectural office, town office, post office, hospital and mountain.

(c)2014 the Japan Times (Tokyo). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Tags: , ,

Next Up

More on Skift

Skift Global Forum: Las Vegas CMO Cathy Tull on Travel’s Most Iconic Tagline
Skift Business Traveler: United Tries to Woo Back Premium Fliers With Food
Australian Tourism Board Creates 4-Minute Vacation With New Timelapse Video
Why You Should Consider Hotel Loyalty Programs