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Visitors to Tokyo have often complained about the difficulty of navigating the labyrinthine capital. The numbering system isn’t in chronological order, many streets don’t have signs, and even if they do, the Roman letter translation of the Japanese can be as mystifying as the kanji characters. It’s all very well using a script foreign visitors can read, but what’s a Kokkai? And when looking for a police station would an English speaker really know to look for a Koban? It’s enough to make a visitor throw their hands up in defeat and head back to the airport.

Well, this week, as part of their preparations to make Tokyo more visitor-friendly for the Olympics, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has decreed a change to signs in the government district of Tokyo that should make a lot more sense.

According to guidelines issued in 2005, common nouns like “toll road” should be translated into English, while proper nouns should be given a phonetic rendering in Roman letters. So, up to now, signs in front of the parliament building have read Kokkai instead of The National Diet, for example.

Among other names getting a more comprehensible translation are The Ministry of Finance, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Parliamentary Museum and the National Diet Library.

▼ Left to right: Japanese, Romanised version, new English translation

name changes

In addition, some street names will be changed. For example, signs that have read Roppongi Dori up to now will be changed to Roppongi-dori Ave to make it clear that it is a street name.

The number of foreign visitors jumped 22.8% in the first half of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012, and the government is hoping those numbers will continue to rise. In addition to strengthening their Olympic bid, the city is no doubt hoping to make life a little easier for these businesspeople and tourists.

Although the current changes affect only a small part of Tokyo, the ministry is planning to carry out further changes along national highway routes by the end of the year. And if all goes well, perhaps more of the city’s signage will follow suit? For the sake of the confused tourists, let’s hope so!

Source: Naver Matome
Images: MSN Sankei News via Naver Matome