A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, I saw an article about how Japan was changing its symbol signifying a Buddhist temple. (For example, the temple’s location on a map.) It is this symbol: It looks like Hitler’s swastiska symbol, but it is backwards, and of course predates Hitler. I can’t find the news story now, but it focused on that symbol alone and implied that was the only symbol Japan is changing.
(For a history of that symbol, see here.)
Anyway, I was reading the kids’ newspaper and there was an article discussing the matter. Not only that symbol will change, but anything deemed confusing to a foreigner.
The above headline reads: Gaikokujin Muke Chizu Kigou (Map Symbols Geared to Foreigners)
I had heard about this before. It’s in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Other things will change, not just symbols. For example, if a sign says 動物園, currently the romaji (Roman letters) will likely say Doubutsuen. But if you don’t know Japanese, that is still confusing to you. So they will change these signs to English. The new sign will say “Zoo.”
The above photo shows things that will change on the left. Gone is the old postal zip code mark for “post office”, replaced by a handy dandy envelope symbol. And so on.
How do I feel about this? Honestly, I don’t care. Yeah, it will be sad to see the old symbols go. But Japanese people can do what they want with their own country.
Regarding the Romaji versus English, I do feel that discontinuing romaji may make things confusing. If I see the sign for “Zoo” and say to a Japanese person: “Zoo?” He or she may not understand because many do not understand English. (Still.) However if I say Doubutsuen, he or she is more likely to understand.
I think the government thinks that by switching the signs to English, it will push the Japanese people to learn English more, something they really need to do quite desperately. (Although it’s hard for them, I know that. It’s just as hard for them to learn English as it is for me to learn Japanese.)
But changing the signs will make it harder for foreigners to learn Japanese, since the romaji word is no longer there. So that’s a bad thing, especially if the foreigner lives in Japan (permanently or temporarily).
So hopefully that clears up the matter a bit. The symbol and sign renovation is NOT only a swastika thing. It’s a “making things more understandable” thing.
(free image from this site)