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

by Masaaki Kameda

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.