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Japan Might Change All Its Stop Signs for Confused Foreigners

It still prefers triangles even though the world uses octagons.

A stop sign in Tokyo. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)

Japan is considering a revamp of its stop signs to suit easily confused tourists, The Japan Times reported Thursday. Japan’s current signs are fun and different, but they’re also red triangles that look suspiciously like the yield signs in the U.S. and other nations.

“Japanese drivers are familiar with the existing signs, but now that we need to think more globally we are considering an alternative that would be easier for foreign people to understand,” an official with the country’s National Police Agency (NPA) told the Times.

Japan is indeed in the midst of a pretty major tourist boom. An estimated 19.7 million foreigners visited Japan in 2015, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, a 10 percent jump from the year previous. In 2020, Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently raised the Games’ tourism target from 20 million people to 30 million.

Japan’s current “slow down” sign. (Wikimedia Commons/Eastwind41)

Though the Olympics shouldn’t see a gigantic spike in car rentals (much of the city is connected by a sprawling and, yes, complicated transit network), a bunch of British, Mexican, Burundian and Thai driver/athletes careening off the roads does not good press make.

The stop sign makeover would not come cheap. The government estimates the bill for replacing every sign in Japan with a more “global” design would total 25 billion yen, or $214 million.

The triangular stop signs are one of the last vestiges of unique Japanese signage. In 2013, Tokyo began to switch from signs using with “romaji”—English transliterations of Japanese words—to signs with straight-up English translations.  The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan announced earlier this month that it would change the symbols on foreign maps to reflect representations used throughout the globe: an envelope for a post office, a stick figure in a bed for hotel, and a peaked white box with a cross in the middle for a hospital, among others.

Japanese road sign where romaji has been replaced by an English translation. (Wikimedia Commons/Monaneko)

Japan has historically gone against convention when it comes to signage. It’s not among the 64 countries party to the United Nations 1968 Convention on Road Signs and Signals, which lays out global rules on, well, traffic signs. According to the guidelines, a “stop” sign is either circular, “with a white or yellow ground and a red border,” or octagonal, “with a red ground bearing the word ‘STOP’ in white in English or in the language of the State concerned.” Maybe that sounds familiar; it looks like this:

A stop sign in Thailand. (Flickr/Michael Coghlan)

Or this:

A stop sign in the United Arab Emirates. (Flickr/Jay Galvin)

The U.S. did not sign the UN treaty. It uses octagons anyway.

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