Design of Japanese stop signs might change ahead of Olympic tourism surge

Kyodo, Staff Report

Since Japan expects an increase in tourists ahead of the 2020 Olympics, the National Police Agency is considering replacing the nation’s stop signs with versions considered more recognizable by foreign visitors.

Most of the stop signs in western countries are octagonal, but Japan’s stop signs, which have been used since 1963, are red inverted triangles imprinted with Japanese word “tomare,” which means stop, in white.

Since these might be hard to understand for non-Japanese, the police agency plans to either replace them or add “stop” in English, depending on the budget.

According to the NPA, there are 1.7 million stop signs across Japan. It would cost about ¥25.5 billion to replace them all with the octagonal signs.

“Japanese drivers are familiar with the existing signs, but now that we need to think more globally we are considering an alternative that would be easier for foreign people to understand,” said the NPA official in charge of the project.

Countries such as Britain and Italy introduced the red octagonal signs based on the United Nations Convention on Road Signs and Signals adopted in Vienna in November 1968. Although it did not adopt the 1968 treaty, the United States also introduced octagonal signs. The convention, however, also allows for the use of a variant that has a red circle with an inverted triangle inside, which has been used in Pakistan.

In Japan, stop signs similar to those endorsed by the 1968 convention had been used since 1950 but were replaced with the existing signs in 1963, just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, on the premise that they would be easier to understand.

The police agency said it has been consulting on the project with experts including automobile journalists and foreign professors teaching at Japanese universities.

By the end of March the police agency also plans to conduct a survey of foreigners’ views on Japanese traffic signs, which will be reflected in the new system. The agency plans to change only stop signs, because the nation’s other traffic signs already resemble those used outside Japan.

The transport ministry has recently reported that Japan, which aims to attract 20 million foreign tourists by the Olympic Games in 2020, logged a record 19.73 million tourists last year.

The government also expects foreign car rentals to increase.

In 2013, Tokyo decided to change street signs in public places written in romaji, such as Kokkai (the Diet) into English to become more tourism-oriented.

Experts also say that during earthquakes or other disasters, visitors unable to read Japanese signs may become left behind in confusion and panic.

Following criticism that Japanese map symbols might confuse non-Japanese, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan released a set of new symbols for Japanese maps written in foreign languages earlier this month.

  • John

    Another thing that needs to be adjusted is the positioning of traffic lights. The lights need to be above the stopping point rather than on the far side of the junctions they are meant to be controlling.

  • John

    Another thing that needs to be adjusted is the positioning of traffic lights. The lights need to be above the stopping point rather than on the far side of the junctions they are meant to be controlling.

  • http://www.kuropixel.com Bryan Kuro

    It’s really up to the Japanese government and how far it will go in terms of changing the design and budget. What would probably be best for both existing residents and international tourists would be to simply add “STOP” underneath the 止まれ on the sign. It’s a decent compromise.

  • GBR48

    So in 1963, they changed from a standard-shaped sign with Japanese and English text to a non-standard-shaped sign in only Japanese ‘on the premise that they would be easier to understand’?

    That is entirely illogical.

    • Don Corleone

      Logic is not the issue here.

    • Ronald W. Nixon

      Unlike Obama, Japan is a country with respect for its culture and traditions. The stop sign is a product of Japanese culture, and Japan will not bow to short-sighted foreign pressured attempts to force Japan to change its street signs.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Why? How many foreigners do you think there were here in 1963? Isn’t it more likely the addition of a language many people knew squat about, in comparison to now(scary thought) to their signs caused more problems than it solved?

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Why? How many foreigners do you think there were here in 1963? Isn’t it more likely the addition of a language many people knew squat about, in comparison to now(scary thought) to their signs caused more problems than it solved?

  • GBR48

    So in 1963, they changed from a standard-shaped sign with Japanese and English text to a non-standard-shaped sign in only Japanese ‘on the premise that they would be easier to understand’?

    That is entirely illogical.

  • jomarcenter

    I think the best thing without confusing the locals after the Olympics is over. Just put out a English word on it. I mean the Olympics isn’t a year or a month long event anyways. Why waster money and cause some problem with locals after the event.

  • CLJF

    The government should introduced red light cameras while they’re at it.

  • Karagarga

    Well, at least they got rid of the plastic policemen who glowed in the dark.

  • Clickonthewhatnow

    I got my license here, so I’m not quite sure of the process, but don’t you have to take a test showing you know the meaning of these signs before getting your international driving license anyhow? Seems like a lot of money, especially if they’re talking about nationwide.

  • Ariko Honda

    The excellent principle used in the Meiji Restoration was to take Western technology and ideas only in ways that did not compromise Japanese tradition and culture. Changing stop signs to pander to tourists goes against this principle, plus, tourists WANT to see things that are uniquely Japanese!

  • Denny Pollard

    I don’t get it foreigners do NOT live in Japan or drive daily so why change the current sign where most Japanese will not understand it just to please short stay tourist. This is so STUPID, local people will not understand the signs if it is changed. I am so against trying to make Japan change of tourist, this is Japan learn Japanese and their signs…

  • Denny Pollard

    I don’t get it foreigners do NOT live in Japan or drive daily so why change the current sign where most Japanese will not understand it just to please short stay tourist. This is so STUPID, local people will not understand the signs if it is changed. I am so against trying to make Japan change of tourist, this is Japan learn Japanese and their signs…

  • Bill

    When I first started driving here – fortunately a scooter, not a car – I thought they meant “yield.” Simply adding a sticker should be sufficient; it’s not like many foreign visitors drive here anyway. Of course, that would leave less funds for the amakudari crowd.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Another waste of taxpayer’s money. How many tourists actually drive in Japan? I thought the Olympics were supposed to be “compact” with events easily reachable by the convenient public transportation system. Same for all the major tourist spots. If you are going to drive in a foreign country, you should know what the traffics signs mean. Just more money down the high tech toilet.

  • @citizen_urayasu

    If the reversed and vertically aligned Hakenkreuz-like design were to “offend” non-Japanese visitors, sorry that they have never ever saw a Star Wars film, in which the Empire and First Order design elements are soooooo Nazi-inspired.

  • @citizen_urayasu

    If the reversed and vertically aligned Hakenkreuz-like design were to “offend” non-Japanese visitors, sorry that they have never ever saw a Star Wars film, in which the Empire and First Order design elements are soooooo Nazi-inspired.

  • @citizen_urayasu

    Gosh, so many comments are focused only now and then 1963. Does anybody know Japan had been occupied by the Allied Forces after WWII?

    From road signs to prostitution, things got pretty much topsy-turvy. The dreadful enemy language of English became means of accommodating the Allied Forces, namely and mostly Americans.

    And don’t call us Japanese (locals). We are citizens. I find being called a local, immensely condescending.

  • Scott Sanchez

    I’ve been researching this issue. Can anyone point me to what Japanese stop signs looked like, prior to 1950? Thanks.

  • Scott Sanchez

    I’ve been researching this issue. Can anyone point me to what Japanese stop signs looked like, prior to 1950? Thanks.