Road signs in Japan

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In the article “Traveling Solo in Tokyo” (Jan. ’07, pg. 46), the author states, “As you get farther outside of Tokyo, the signs all switch from Romaji to Japanese characters.”

I have skied in Japan every February for the last five years, renting a car and driving around back roads in Hokkaido, Niigata, Nagano and Iwate prefectures. I travel alone and can neither read nor speak Japanese. All of the road signs I have seen, even in very small towns, have been in Japanese and English. I have never really had any navigation problems.

RICHARD PAZARA

Arlington, TX

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to the Japan National Tourist Organization in Los Angeles and asked about road signs in Japan. Here’s the reply.

The majority of traffic signs in Japan (No U-turn, One way, No passing, etc.) are expressed as symbols in order to be universally understood. Visitors to Japan who decide to drive should familiarize themselves with these symbols. However, there are a few traffic signs that have words on them, such as “Stop” (a red triangle in Japan) and “No bikes over 250cc,” and these signs are usually not translated into English. However, this does not pose a major problem; many people manage to live and drive in Japan with no knowledge of the Japanese language.

All directional signs on highways (such as “13 kilometers to Kamakura” or “Nagoya this way”) are marked in English and Japanese. Signs on roads in small towns often are not translated into English, which may pose problems for travelers venturing off the beaten path.

It is important to note that many roads in Japan do not have names, so even a knowledge of Japanese does not guarantee that one will not get lost.

One thing that probably contributed to Mr. Pazara’s experience is the fact that ski resorts rely on large amounts of foreign visitors, so signs in English are more prevalent in such areas.

In conclusion, it is possible to drive around Japan without knowing Japanese, but it is also possible to get lost doing so. A bilingual road atlas from Kodansha America, Inc. (www.kodansha-intl.com), distributed by Oxford Press, or a bilingual car navigation system, available sporadically from rental car companies, will help prevent the latter.

The following webpages show the bilingual signs you will find on highways in Japan: www.kictec.co.jp/sing/annai/101-102/101.htm (and ... annai/105A-105C/105.htm).

The following webpages list a few of Japan’s traffic symbol signs: www.japandriverslicense.com/roadsign.htm and www.thejapanfaq.com/bikerfaq-signs.html.

CHRISTOPHER BISHOP, Assistant Director, Japan National Tourist Organization, 515 South Figueroa St., Ste. 1470, Los Angeles, CA 90071

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In the article “Traveling Solo in Tokyo” (Jan. ’07, pg. 46), the author states, “As you get farther outside of Tokyo, the signs all switch from Romaji to Japanese characters.”

I have skied in Japan every February for the last five years, renting a car and driving around back roads in Hokkaido, Niigata, Nagano and Iwate prefectures. I travel alone and can neither read nor speak Japanese. All of the road signs I have seen, even in very small towns, have been in Japanese and English. I have never really had any navigation problems.

RICHARD PAZARA

Arlington, TX

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to the Japan National Tourist Organization in Los Angeles and asked about road signs in Japan. Here’s the reply.

The majority of traffic signs in Japan (No U-turn, One way, No passing, etc.) are expressed as symbols in order to be universally understood. Visitors to Japan who decide to drive should familiarize themselves with these symbols. However, there are a few traffic signs that have words on them, such as “Stop” (a red triangle in Japan) and “No bikes over 250cc,” and these signs are usually not translated into English. However, this does not pose a major problem; many people manage to live and drive in Japan with no knowledge of the Japanese language.

All directional signs on highways (such as “13 kilometers to Kamakura” or “Nagoya this way”) are marked in English and Japanese. Signs on roads in small towns often are not translated into English, which may pose problems for travelers venturing off the beaten path.

It is important to note that many roads in Japan do not have names, so even a knowledge of Japanese does not guarantee that one will not get lost.

One thing that probably contributed to Mr. Pazara’s experience is the fact that ski resorts rely on large amounts of foreign visitors, so signs in English are more prevalent in such areas.

In conclusion, it is possible to drive around Japan without knowing Japanese, but it is also possible to get lost doing so. A bilingual road atlas from Kodansha America, Inc. (www.kodansha-intl.com), distributed by Oxford Press, or a bilingual car navigation system, available sporadically from rental car companies, will help prevent the latter.

The following webpages show the bilingual signs you will find on highways in Japan: www.kictec.co.jp/sing/annai/101-102/101.htm (and ... annai/105A-105C/105.htm).

The following webpages list a few of Japan’s traffic symbol signs: www.japandriverslicense.com/roadsign.htm and www.thejapanfaq.com/bikerfaq-signs.html.

CHRISTOPHER BISHOP, Assistant Director, Japan National Tourist Organization, 515 South Figueroa St., Ste. 1470, Los Angeles, CA 90071