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Neighborhood Street Signs

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Route for school children
Route for school children

Continuing the “Street Walk” series following the building construction photos, I photographed a number of street signs that are quite common in Tokyo. They have a uniquely Japanese feeling to them. When you walk past them everyday they become commonplace.

These street signs can be a great way for the beginner to learn Kanji since every time you pass them they can serve as a memory jog.

The sign above is a common one in Tokyo showing that the road is a designated travel path for school children. You can see Shibuya-ku (渋谷区) displayed at the bottom of the sign.

The following sign pasted to the front of a building when they are looking for new tenants is also a common site. Whilst internet advertising for offices and apartments has become very popular and of course real estate agents have full lists at their office, a sign like this can really catch the attention of passers by who might just be interested in renting at that location.

The red writing says “looking for tenant”. The light blue writing is the name of the real estate company, with the dark blue writing saying “please feel free to contact the agent for property details”

Advertising for building tenants
Advertising for building tenants

This is a fairly typical, although graffiti-ed, fire extinguisher box. You can see on the top it even has it written in English, just in case a foreigner needs to put out a fire 🙂

Fire Extinguisher
Fire Extinguisher

This sign is very common for most apartment buildings. When putting out the rubbish you have to separtate burnable from non-burnable and then there are special days for large rubbish and other items. This sign has quite a bit of English on it, but you can expect many of them to be totally in Japanese. This sign provides a good teaching aid since it has both English and Japanese together.

Rubbish Collection
Rubbish Collection

When carrying out road or building construction, there are normally a set number of signs that you will see around the area. One is the following sign, apologizing for any inconvenience that might be caused during the construction work.

Sorry for the trouble
Sorry for the trouble

To make sure you don’t try to enter the site this one says “No entry”

No Entry
No Entry

A very well known sign at construction sites is the following one, 安全第一, “Safety First”. It’s history is said to go back to the early 1900’s when US Steel coined the phrase “safety first”, and was brought to Japan around 1913, becoming a national slogan for progress.

Safety First
Safety First

Moving away from construction signs, this picture of a dog tells people that the area is an official safe house area for children. This system was set up for the community to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and assist children if they are in trouble. Note the dog is wearing a sash that says his name is Hachiko-kun.

Safe Houses for children
Safe Houses for children

Here is a quick link to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Departments website explaining how you can get involved in the safe house area for children. (Japanese language only)

I found this sign in a local park (the mens toilet was not meant to be part of the photo). The sign is explaining the rainwater storage barrel that is for times of natural disaster.

Rainwater storage barrel for emergency water
Rainwater storage barrel for emergency water

Looking at the sign closely, you can see the kanji text has been supplemented with furigana, written on top of the Kanji. Presumably this is so that young children can also read the full text. The explanation says that you can use the water for flowers and park cleaning as well as in disaster times such as earthquakes.

Explanantion of water usage
Explanantion of water usage

Noticeboards for the local area are common on the street. this one is for Nanpeidai. The notices look fairly old. Note the 2nd poster from the left where the police are still appealing for anyone who knows the whereabouts of the Aum Shinrikyo members.

Local noticeboard
Local noticeboard

Having looked at a number of closeups it is worth seeing the street as a whole. Here is a street with some construction work happening on the right. How many signs can you see in this picture? Every telegraph post seems to have some form of advertising on it.

Plenty of signs posted everywhere
Plenty of signs posted everywhere

Look at the policebox, Koban, sign in this photo. It is in the top of the shot in green. The sign it written only in romaji.

Small police box
Small police box

Many road signs in Tokyo are written in romaji as well as Kanji. Here is a typical road sign.

road sign
road sign

A look at street signage would not be complete without seeing a few, or a lot, of posters for politicians. It seems like there is always some sort of local or Prefectural or National election going on and the posters are everywhere.

The ad on the left is for the Komeito party. The dog on the right is not running for Prime Minister, he is advertising a detective agency
The ad on the left is for the Komeito party. The dog on the right is not running for Prime Minister, he is advertising a detective agency

How many different signs do you pass on the street everyday and not really notice?

  1. James says

    This is actually how I learned my first few kanji. Walking through train stations. you see 出口 and 入り口 they are all over the place.

    1. Shibuya246 says

      Perfect way to do it 🙂

  2. Ryan says

    Yea, I found that I was doing the same thing on my last business trip: looking at signs and memorising the kanji. After a whole month of this, it's impossible for the darn things not to be ingrained!

  3. Jon Allen says

    it was a long time before I found out what the black dog was advertising. Why the dog ?

    1. Shibuya246 says

      Looks like he is a real dog. Must be the owners dog maybe. Here is the page on their website talking about Kuro, the dog, who they say is a real life detective. http://www.a-g.co.jp/company/index03.html

      Wonder if he is licensed to carry a weapon?

  4. Billy says

    This is a great way to learn.

    When the writing is in both English and Japanese it's important to make a point to look at the Kanji so it sinks in. I wish there wasn't as much English around because my eyes automatically go straight for it even when I know the Kanji.

    1. Ryan says

      Mine do exactly the same! Annoying..

    2. Shibuya246 says

      Another way to try and train your eyes to "stick" to the Kanji, is to watch English language movies with Japanese subtitles. Focus on the subtitles and try to read them before they change. After a while you will be subconsciously reading the movie as well as listening to it. Very good practice.

  5. Nick says

    how about posting the reading of the signs in Japanese so we can remember the reading too?

    1. Shibuya246 says

      I'll see about organizing that. thanks

  6. freedomwv says

    The last one looks like it was taken right outside my house. Although, I really doubt that is the case.

    1. Shibuya246 says

      Those signs are everywhere aren' t they? Must be a lot of money in the investigation business.

  7. Jamaipanese says

    i love the commentary on the last sign

    I wouldn't be surprised if that dog was running for PM

    1. Shibuya246 says

      I actually made a mistake when I first posted it and said "the dog on the left is not running for PM". Good job I spotted that and changed it to say the dog on the right. B)

      Thx for dropping in again.

  8. Andrew J says

    Great collection of signs and commentary on them. This will again help me take a little piece of Japan into my Japanese classes. I had been searching flickr for things like this but you've put them all into one page! Thank you!
    Andrew J

    1. Shibuya246 says

      Thanks. I'll add some more to a second post later and include the Japanese and English words. Might even make this a regular series if people are interested

  9. 2nihon says

    That’s too bad, I would’ve voted for the dog.

    Yes, do please make it a series. I love posts like this.

  10. Eowyn Tamriel says

    Wow, this article is not the newest, but still very relevant! I stumbled upon this page in an effort to understand more next time I go to Japan. Last time, the seemingly endless clumps of kanji really intimidated me and I found myself hardly trying to understand, and sticking to hiragana/katakana. I’m sure you all know you don’t get very far with that approach. 🙂 I have since developed a love for challenging signs and have gone through my old photos, looking for things I might now understand (with more success than I imagined!).
    I was wondering whether you or anyone else is interested and willing to explain more signs just for fun. I would not only be interested in street signs, but also those in stores. Like are there typical expressions of special offers? Sales? Member-only deals? Signage in supermarkets/departement stores? I don’t really care about the actual offers, but figure one would see those types of expressions a great deal, which is great for learning. It would be brilliant to have the kanji part as text that can be copied and pasted; I would look up each individual “new” kanji to understand the meaning better once I’m there again.
    Even if no one has time, this was already very interesting and it’s great to see others using the same approach towards learning. Thank you!

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