Signs of the times: street, building markers get English names

by

Staff Writer

Foreign tourists should have an easier time identifying the seat of government in Tokyo when the current sign, “Kokkai,” is pulled down and replaced with “The National Diet,” officials said Tuesday.

In all, 13 street signs will be replaced, including changing “Sorikantei” to “Prime Minister’s Office” and “Sakurada dori” to “Sakurada-dori Ave.”

“Japan aims to be a tourism-oriented country, so together with relevant bodies, we decided to make these replacements to make the nation more foreigner-friendly,” said Hiroshi Mochizuki, a section chief at the Tokyo government’s construction bureau.

The Japanese on three signs will also be changed to make it easier for visitors to comprehend.

“Sangiin tsuyomon” (entrance to the House of Councilors building) will be changed to “Kokkaitoshokan mae,” accompanied by the English name “National Diet Library.” The west entrance to the Upper House building, identified as “Councilors Office” in English and now called “Sangiin nishi tsuyomon,” will become “Sangiinkaikan mae.”

And the current sign “Kokkai ura” (the back of the Diet building) will be replaced with one that says “Shugiinkaikan mae” and “Representatives Office.”

Shinichi Takinami, a deputy director at the Tokyo National Road Office at the transport ministry, said the ministry, which concentrated on sidewalk signs, decided this time to change the language on street signs on a trial basis following discussions at a council with members also from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo Metro Co. and Chiyoda Ward.

The area surrounding the Diet building was chosen for the trial because of the many street signs showing the locations of government buildings and other facilities, according to Takinami. He also noted the nearby Imperial Palace attracts many foreign tourists.

A 1986 revision to a ministry ordinance on road signs stipulates the signs should be written in Roman letters, along with Japanese, for non-Japanese visitors, according to Takinami.

Eight new signs on national roads should be up by Wednesday morning, according to Takinami. Five signs on metropolitan roads will be replaced by the end of December, said Mochizuki of the metro construction bureau.

Takinami said the ministry hopes to improve road signs nationwide, particularly in regions popular with foreign tourists, after studying the results of the trial.

  • Ron NJ

    It’s an interesting idea, but a better idea would be pulling out of the dark ages and actually assigning street names to the majority of roads so finally people can get where they’re going without needing a map. It’s a bit ridiculous trying to get anywhere here, which is expressed pretty well by the fact that literally everything, from business cards to directions to one’s work binger for that week, has a map attached showing where it is in relation to some (often hard-to-find-themselves) landmarks.
    Or I guess we could just keep using the silly banchi system where everything is numbered by order of registration and giving directions anywhere is a complete pain – everyone has GPS anyways, right?

  • Jeffrey

    “Japan aims to be a tourism-oriented country, so together with relevant bodies, we decided to make these replacements to make the nation more foreigner-friendly,” said Hiroshi Mochizuki, a section chief at the Tokyo government’s construction bureau.

    * * * * *

    Well, maybe Tokyo. But apparently not Osaka.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/08/19/voices/abe-and-his-ministers-give-anti-foreigner-rallies-tacit-green-light/

  • nanka

    I think, it is going the wrong way as Japan is giving away part of it’s, if not identity so at least flair: Japanese names have a very exotic and fascinating sound in other languages, so translating them takes away the best part. And, as a tourist, when I make a photo from myself in front of a sign saying “Sakura-dori Ave”, everybody would ask me, where in the USA I have been. And the better informed ones with some curiosity for Japanese culture and language woud even argue that “Sakura-dori Ave” is as funny as “Mt. Fujiyama” because dori is ave as yama is mountain, so it is all doubled. Why then don’t they go the whole way and translate it as “Cherry Lane”? At least, any time, whe I went to Japan, I wanted to see Japanese original sings and names to dive into the mood and the flair of Japanese culture and life style, and no English, or I would have gone to US in the first place.

    The second thing is: Is Japan only aiming at English speaking tourists? With those English-ization, I bet, you chase away most of the tourists of all other coutries, especially central Europeans, who always somhow struggle against more and more Anglicisms watering their own language and are traditionally more after the “pure origin” of everything.

  • Mark Garrett

    “Japan aims to be a tourism-oriented country, so together with relevant bodies, we decided to make these replacements to make the nation more foreigner-friendly,” said Hiroshi Mochizuki, a section chief at the Tokyo government’s construction bureau. “Foreign tourists should have an easier time identifying the seat of government in Tokyo when the current sign, “Kokkai,” is pulled down and replaced with “The National Diet”. Eight new signs on national roads should be up by Wednesday morning, according to Takinami. Five signs on metropolitan roads will be replaced by the end of December, said Mochizuki of the metro construction bureau.

    Yeah, because visiting the National Diet Library, and renting a car and hitting the open roads are at the top of everyone’s bucket lists when visiting Japan! Geesh, I honestly cannot think of two less effective means of assisting foreign tourists.

    How about burying a few power lines, losing some of the concrete, and dealing with a few of the MANY vacant derelict buildings?

  • Maranyika

    Its long over due!!

  • Jameika

    I disagree with the premise. Sometimes it’s helpful, but people often don’t know when to stop translating. Sometimes you need to know the *name* of something and not what it might mean in English. It’s not helpful to translate “kokkaigijidomae”, for an extreme example to “in front of the national diet”. I see intersection names that are translated instead of transliterated which helps no one with place names.
    Besides, a lot of those names in the article don’t sound like English to me. What’s up with the “OO-dori Avenue” thing anyway? How is that helpful to anyone? I bet they have asked exactly zero tourists.

  • Miura_Anjin

    I can see this being a complete disaster from a practical point of view. As it stands, we are given the Kanji, with the romaji underneath, the ideal situation in my opinion. As long as some hapless tourist (or indeed lazy resident) can pronounce the romaji, he can communicate where he wants to go to a taxi driver, or use guidebook Japanese to ask a passerby.
    Now we will face a situation where a tourist is faced with (presumably) indecipherable kanji, and some arbitrary English name. Good luck asking Taxi driver Taro to take you to the Representatives Office!!

    “Taxi driver! To the Field of Autumn Leaves please!”

  • Spudator

    Representatives Office? Tut tut! So much for English education in Japan. Representatives’ Office, surely.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    Given that tourists to Japan as well as the foreign residents of Japan are overwhelmingly Chinese followed by Koreans, the push on English seems wasted effort and money. If you look at the signs on the private Keikyu Line, you’ll see that they know who butters their bread. It’s not the people from Anglophone countries.