Thursday, June 01, 2006

Feeling Lost?

On my first visit to Japan (Good grief! Only nine years ago this month!) I was really worried that we'd get hopelessly lost what with all the signs being in impossible-to-read 'kanji' - the Japanese set of 'Chinese Characters'. There's more than 2,000 of them.

Well, one thing is sure, it would be very hard for anyone to get lost in Japan. You only have to look a little bit uneasy for people to start checking you out to make sure that you are OK. They are really helpful here.

And the signs on the railways are especially helpful. Here's a very typical and standard 'JR East Japan' station sign.

First you get the name in 'kanji' which is how it will appear on your Japanese map if you have one. Actually often you can't tell how a place is pronounced just from this even if you are Japanese - it's a bit like having a little picture of a man on a toilet door but not knowing if people here say 'gents', 'hombres' or 'monsieurs'. So immediately under the kanji is the place name again in Japanese 'kana' - a table of sounds. It says 'o-o-a-mi' just so that you know what locals call it. Then for English speaking travellers there's the roman alphabet underneath. So you actually get the name three times.

And to be extra helpful to the left and right are the names of the next stations along the line.

No one could get lost eh? Hmm ... well, you might know what it's called, but as to WHERE you really are ... that's still sometimes a mystery.


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