JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when in crowds.


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Welcome!ようこそ - The red hiragana characters read "Yōkoso!" (Welcome!). The bottom characters say "Mother Bokujō e" (to Mother Farm).

(Note that all the Japanese kanji characters you see on signs will read either from top to bottom or from left to right.)

Place: Mother Farm, Chiba.
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Train Station駅 - The kanji characters read "Sannomiya Eki." The last character "eki" is what you will always see in train and subway station names.

Place: Sannomiya Station, Hyogo Pref. (10 days after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Jan. 1995).
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Tourist Information Center観光案内所 - "Kankō Annai-sho." A string of kanji characters any tourist in Japan should remember. "Kankō" means sightseeing, "annai" means guide, and "sho" is place. You can find sightseeing maps and pamphlets, sometimes in English.

Place: Local museum in the countryside.
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Exit出口 - The kanji characters beside the door says "Deguchi," meaning Exit. In this case, this door is only for exiting, not entering. (You enter the bus through the front door.) You will see "Deguchi" at train/subway stations as well.

Place: Bus stop in Tokyo.
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Public Toilet公衆便所 - Pronounced "kōshū benjo." And "WC" means "water closet." This is outside in the park. The men's/ladies' room inside a department store, etc., is usually called "otearai" (お手洗い).

Place: Sumida River fireworks, Tokyo.
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Store Your Bags一時預り所 - "Ichiji azukari-sho" means makeshift baggage storage place. This facility has been provided to accommodate the bags of the flood of visitors coming to see a big festival near this train station. The available coin-operated lockers are not enough. The "ichiji" can also mean one o'clock, but in this context, it means temporary.

The sign on the right says, "Ichinichi ikko 400 yen" and "Eigyō jikan 8:00 - 17:00." It costs 400 yen to store one bag, and the storage hours are as stated. The place requires you to come back for your stored bag by 5 pm. One advantage of the coin-operated lockers is that you don't need to come back for your bag by 5 pm.

Place: Shimo-Suwa Station, Nagano for the Onbashira Festival.
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You Are Here現在地 - Sightseeing and parking map. The "P" stands for "parking lot." Toward the bottom, the red kanji characters say "Genzai-chi" (You are Here).

Place: Minakuchi Castle, Shiga Pref.
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Sightseeing Map観光案内図 - You will often find a large sightseeing map right outside the train station. At the top, the last four kanji characters read "Kankō Annai-zu" meaning sightseeing guide map. Such maps are inexact and you cannot tell how far things are. The first three characters is the name of the city (Himi-shi).

Place: Himi, Toyama Pref.
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Bay Cruise Map伊根湾めぐり案内図 - The large white kanji characters at the upper left say "Ine-wan Meguri Annai-zu" or Ine Bay Cruise Guide map. When the word "meguri" follows the word for bay (wan) or any body of water, it means sightseeing boat cruise. This map, near the pier, shows the route of the sightseeing boat.

Place: Ine (Tango Peninsula), Kyoto.
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Emergency Refuge Area指定避難所 - What might look like another sightseeing map is actually a guide to the nearest emergency refuge area. It is usually a large park, and it is mainly for major earthquakes. The kanji characters at the top read "shitei hi'nan-jo" or designated evacuation area. The name of the park (Nishi Kōen) is further to the right.

Place: Sendai, Miyagi Pref.
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Bus Stopバス - At the top, the red katakana characters at the top says "basu" or bus. The word "noriba" (のりば)or "stop" is often appended to "bus." Below "Basu" is the name of the bus stop (Sumoto I.C.). "I.C." stands for "interchange" (on an expressway). Below that is the name of the bus companies stopping there (Tokushima Bus and Awaji Kōtsū).

Place: Awaji island, Hyogo Pref.
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Cycling Roadサイクリング ロード - Above the bicycle symbol in green, it reads "Cycling Road." (Above that is "Shimanami Kaid?.") It is obvious that this is a path for bicycles.

Place: Island in the Seto Inland Sea. The Shimanami Kaidō is a roadway connecting several bridges spanning across a few islands in the Seto Inland Sea from Imabari in Ehime Pref., Shikoku to Onomichi in Hiroshima.
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Bicycles and Motor Scooters自転車/原付 - The left kanji characters (top to bottom) say "jitensha" (bicycles). On the right, it says "gentsuki" which is short for "gendōki-tsuki jitensha" (原動機付き自転車)or motor scooters.

Place: Island in the Seto Inland Sea.
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Cherry Blossom Festival桜まつり - In big black characters is "Sakura Matsuri." "Sakura," of course, means cherry blossoms, and "matsuri" is festival. Above that in small characters is "Sumida Kōen" (Sumida Park) which is famous for cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

Place: Sumida Park, Tokyo
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Thank YouIn big, red hiragana characters at the top is "Arigato gozaimashita." If you cannot even read this, it means you are totally illiterate in Japan. This big gate faces the pier where passengers get off the ferry and head for the train station right beyond this gate.

Place: Hama-Kanaya Station, Chiba Pref.
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International国際 - Another word all overseas tourists in Japan should know: "Kokusai," the first two large, white characters on the left. It means international. It is followed by "kōryū" meaning exchange or interchange, and "tsudoi" or event.

Place: Tokyo
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Peace平和 - "Heiwa" is another word you will hear often, especially in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa. The first two characters on the left read "Heiwa" followed by "ishiji" (cornerstone). (Ishiji is normally pronounced "ishizue," but they call it "ishiji" here.)

Place: Cornerstone of Peace, Okinawa. This is a memorial park with many black slabs of stone inscribed with the names of the 200,000 people (all nationalities) who died during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
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Castle城 - "Shiro" (or oshiro) means castle, but when it is appended to a name of a castle, it is pronounced "jō." Such as Kaminoyama-jō in the above example.

Also, if you're Okinawan, you would be familiar with this kanji because many Okinawan names have it. For example, Oshiro, Miyashiro, Kaneshiro, etc. The kanji can also be pronounced "gi" as in Miyagi (think Karate Kid movie).

Place: Kaminoyama Castle, Yamagata Pref.
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Castle Ruins城跡 - This is "jōseki," a kanji compound using "shiro" (see preceding image). The title's bottom two characters is "jōseki" meaning castle ruins. The top two characters is "Koyama," the name of this particular castle.

Place: Koyama Castle, Shizuoka Pref.
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National Park国立公園 - As in many countries, Japan has areas of natural beauty designated as national parks called "Kokuritsu Kōen" (the last four characters on the sign's top line). The entire top line of characters reads, "Seto Naikai Kokuritsu Kōen." Seto Naikai is the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and Honshū islands. It is one of the first three areas in Japan to be designated as a national park in 1934. There are over 25 national parks in Japan. (See list at: http://www.env.go.jp/en/jeg/nps/pamph/index.html).

In the middle line (left to right), are two small characters "Meishō" or "Scenic Spot." The large characters is the place name, Tomonoura. Below this in small characters is Fukuyama-shi, the name of the city.

Place: Tomonoura (Fukuyama), Hiroshima Pref.
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Quasi-National Park国定公園 - On this sign post, the smaller characters on the right read "Noto Hant? Kokutei K?en." "Noto Hantō" means Noto Peninsula, and "Kokutei Kōen" means Quasi-National Park. The word "hantō" literally means half island.

A quasi-national park is like a second-tier national park. The top-ranking national parks called "Kokuritsu Kōen" are defined to be natural areas of beauty rated as world-class. Meanwhile, the quasi-national park is not regarded as "world-class," but it is still beautiful enough to be designated as a national park. The large characters on the left say "Sekinohana," the name of this scenic coast.

There are over 50 quasi-national parks in Japan. In addition, there are prefectural parks designated by the local governor. These are areas of natural beauty recognized by the prefecture, but are not as magnificent as national and quasi-national parks.

Place: Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Pref.
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Lake Mashu湖 - The large characters in the middle is "Mashū-ko" or Lake Mashū. The third character "ko" means lake. Names of lakes almost always ends with this word. Lake Mashū, one of the cleanest and most transparent lakes in Japan, is within a national park called "Akan Kokuritsu Kōen" as indicated by the small characters at the top.

Place: Lake Mashū, Hokkaido
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Cape岬 - Cape is "misaki" in Japanese. The sign says "Sukoton Misaki," or Cape Sukoton.

Place: Rebun island, Hokkaido
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Eight Scenic Views of Omi近江八景 - This sign post indicates that this place is a Scenic Spot ("Meishō" in the red characters). The scenic spot is one of the Eight Scenic Views of Ōmi or "Ōmi Hakkei." And this Ōmi Hakkei is Night Rain at Karasaki.

Ōmi (also spelled Ohmi) is the former name of Shiga Pref. During Japan's feudal era, there were a few hundred fiefs each having a name. These fiefs were eventually consolidated into the current 47 prefectures. Thus, each prefecture consists of one or more old feudal domains. The names of these old fiefs are commonly used in present-day place names within the prefecture.

Famed woodblock artist Hiroshige visited Ōmi and drew these eight scenic places immortalizing the term "Ōmi Hakkei," an idea that came from a lake in China. There are other similar names such as "A Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji" made famous by woodblock print artists.

Place: Karasaki at Lake Biwa, Shiga Pref.
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Swimming Beach海水浴場 - The sign on the left reads "Kaisui Yokujō." "Kaisui" literally means ocean water, and "yokujō" is bathing place.

Place: Kujukuri beach, Chiba Pref.
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This Week's Recommendations今週のおすすめ - The top string of characters say "Konshū no Osusume." "Konshū" is this week, and "osusume" is recommendation. You might see such a signboard in train stations. It publicizes major events and travel to those places. In this case, the Tenjin Matsuri (festival) in Osaka, the Hasu Matsuri (Lotus Flower Festival) in Kusatsu, Shiga Pref., and the Yosakoi Hyogo Festival in Kobe.

Place: A JR train station in the Kansai area.
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Fortune-telling Noteおみくじ - "Omikuji" is one way Shinto shrines make money. You pay a small fee and you receive a small paper note with a fortune inside.

Place: Heian Shrine, Kyoto
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Stone Buddha石仏 - The characters read "Sekibutsu." "Seki" is stone, "butsu" is Buddha. This small stone buddha was one of several embedded on a series of stone steps leading to the castle tower.

Place: Azuchi Castle Ruins, Shiga Pref.
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