Let’s Understand the Japanese Around Us

  • Every foreigner coming to Japan will surely encounter the same one difficulty. It is being unable to read the sign boards and documents available in Japan since most places have only Japanese boards, brochures, etc. which will be written only in Japanese kanji. Most common tourist sites or airports surely have the English version of the signboards along with the Japanese one. But to survive in Japan, it is very helpful if we remember some Kanji letters that we see in everyday life all around Japan. Let us try to learn some daily and very essential Kanji easily found around us.

    1. 日本 : This is the first and most important Kanji writing when thinking about Japan. It is ‘Nihon’ meaning Japan. And Japanese is ‘Nihongo’ written as ‘日本語’ where the last letter ‘語’ (go) means language.
    2. 円 : This is the kanji letter for the Japanese money ‘yen’ read as ‘en’.
    3. お金 : In the billing section of all shops, we can found this writing. It is read as ‘Okane’ meaning ‘money’.
    4. お手洗い : This is a word that we see in almost all places. It is ‘Otearai’, the Japanese word for a ‘toilet’. Even though for most toilets in Japan there are corresponding picture sign boards, sometimes inside some small shops we may find this writing. Toilet can be called ‘toire’ also which is written as ” in Katakana as ‘トイレ ’ .

    5. 入口 : This kanji reads as ‘Iriguchi’ which means the entrance. We can see this sign everywhere: in a railway station, parking area, shop etc. The first Kanji is read as ‘iri’ meaning ‘entry’ and ‘guchi’ means ‘mouth’.
    6. 出口 : This is the word ‘deguchi’ with the meaning ‘exit’ and similar to the word iriguchi we can see it in many places around us. The first letter corresponds to the word ‘de’ meaning ‘to leave’ and ‘guchi’ means ‘mouth’.
    7. 駅 : ‘Eki’ means ‘railway station’. While travelling in Japan, a train is an often used means of transport by almost all people as it is very convenient. We can see the board 駅 in signboards directing us to the station. So using this Kanji we may easily locate the nearest railway station in any place during our travels.
    8. 駅前 : If we are catching a bus to the station, the time schedule board may say 駅前 which is read as ‘ekimae’ meaning ‘in front of the station’ with the last bus stop bound for that station. The second kanji means ‘mae’ with a meaning ‘in front of’.
    9. 女 : This is the kanji for ‘Onna’ meaning ‘woman’. This kanji is commonly seen around the entrance of any public restroom along with the symbol that indicates women.
    10. 男 : Similar to the above kanji, this is also associated with some picture signboards and it corresponds to the word ‘Otoko’ meaning ‘man’.
    11. 人 : This is the kanji for the word ‘hito’ meaning ‘person’. 女性 means a woman and 男性 means a man.
    12. 薬 : If you need to buy some medicine or some beauty products from Japan, you can look out for a board with this writing which corresponds to ‘kusuri’ meaning ‘medicine’ in Japanese. Sometimes it will be written in Hiragana or Katakana.

    13. 銀行 : This will be necessary if you are looking for a bank in Japan to open an account or make a bank transfer. Please look out for a sign board with the kanji 銀行 with a reading ‘ginkou’ that means ‘bank’. The first letter ‘gin’ corresponds to the word meaning silver while the second one is read as ‘kou’ here (or ‘iku’ means ‘go’).

    14. 駐車場 : This is the word ‘Chushajou’ meaning ‘Parking Lot.’ It can be commonly seen accompanied with the picture signboard also in every parking lot in Japan.

    15. 注意 : This Kanji could be seen in many places like roads, buildings, railway platforms, electronic appliances etc. and the reading is ‘Chuui’ which means ‘caution’.

    16. 酒 : In front of the convenience stores or the Japanese “combini” like Lawson, Seven Eleven, and so on, you can often see this kanji which corresponds to the word ‘sake’ meaning ‘liquor’. Commonly, you may also find the word ‘たばこ ‘ (tabako) meaning tobacco or cigarettes nearby.

    17. 時間 : This is the word ‘jikan’ meaning ‘time’. Commonly used to display the business hours, we can find these kanji on the front of shops, restaurants, and so on.
    18. 午後 : This is the Kanji for ‘afternoon’ and is read as ‘gogo’. It could be seen in some information boards with time schedules on it.
    19. 午前 : This is ‘gozen’ meaning forenoon. Even though Japanese prefer using a 24 hour “military” time system, the words ‘gozen’ and ‘gogo’ is used specifically to differentiate between morning and afternoon.

    20. 病院 : If you need to go to a hospital while in Japan, these Kanji letters will help you. 病院 read as ‘byouin’ means ‘ hospital ‘. But there are a lot of small clinics all around Japan, which commonly have ‘クリニック ’ (written in Katakana as read as ‘Kurinikku’) on the window or door.

    Of course we can see many other Kanji around us. Even though it takes time for us to remember each and every Kanji, hopefully they will be helpful to you as you encounter different situations in your daily life in Japan.

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