Tokyo to put up more multi-language signs for Olympics

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Tokyo and the central government launched on Wednesday a public-private council to come up with ways to put up more multiple-language signs for the 2020 Olympics.

“It’s important to improve the environment for welcoming an influx of foreign visitors, in addition to preparing competition venues, to hold the best-ever Olympics and Paralympics,” Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said at the council’s inauguration.

“I’d like to inform visitors from around the world of the attractions offered by Tokyo and Japan, including food, tradition, culture and public safety,” Masuzoe said in stressing the need to remove language barriers as much as possible.

The council starts with 56 relevant public and private organizations as its members, including the Japan Tourism Agency, the Japanese Olympic Committee, the Keidanren business lobby, East Japan Railway Co., Narita International Airport Corp., the Japan Hotel Association and the Japan Department Stores Association.

Prefectures in the Kanto region as well as Nagano, Yamanashi, Shizuoka prefectures, and cities including Yokohama, Kawasaki and Saitama also joined the council.

During its first meeting, the council established three subcommittees, one on mass transit, one on street signs and one on the sightseeing and services industry, according to Hiroshi Fukuzaki, policy director in the Headquarters of the Governor of Tokyo.

The council adopted English and pictograms in addition to Japanese as the basic languages for signs and boards, Fukuzaki said, adding that other languages including Chinese and Korean will be added depending on local situations and needs.

The council, co-chaired by Vice Tokyo Gov. Nobuhiro Maeda and Takeo Hirata, director general of the Cabinet Secretariat’s Office for the Promotion of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, is scheduled to draw up its policy guidelines between October and December, Fukuzaki said.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    The difficulty Japan has with its periodic bouts of “let’s put up lots of English signs to make us feel internationalized” is that most of these signs are more focused on ensuring that foreigners do not disturb social norms in Japan than actually helping foreigners e.g. signs in English proliferate when it comes to telling people to separate garbage or to remove their shoes or not to sit on the grass. These signs are designed to help the sign owner not foreigners. If Japan wants to assist guests to the Olympics, put up signs in English telling them how to buy cheap tickets, get discounts or access English language helplines. Look around you in Tokyo – such signs are non-existent.

    • JTCommentor

      I always find it funny that the english signs and translations of announcements are not actually that. There is one set for Japanese and the English one portrays a different message – be it tourist information on a train or save the foreigner from himself. In this sense, language is used as a divider, rather than a tool.

  • Ron NJ

    “Japanese Only” and “外国人の方お断りします” signs in languages other than Japanese and English. Progress!

  • JTCommentor

    What about translating signs from English back to Japanese – for example “Japanese Only”. Not all foreigners speak English, so this may be useful to keep them out of soccer stands and so on.