travel

Gov't reveals new hot spring symbol for foreign tourists ahead of Tokyo Olympics

46 Comments
By Oona McGee, RocketNews24

With only four short years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is gearing up to welcome visitors from across the world with revamped stations, larger taxis, and even artificial meteor showers. One of the most recent developments, however, is dividing people in Japan, with the announcement that one of the nation’s most well-known and often used pictograms, the Japanese hot spring (“onsen” in Japanese) symbol, is up for revision.

The “onsen mark” features a circular line, which represents a hot spring bath, along with three curved vertical lines resembling steam.

According to the The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the symbol could be misinterpreted by foreigners as the mark of a restaurant that serves hot food. To avoid confusion, three people have been added to the onsen symbol, to clarify the fact that the image is used to represent hot spring bathing.

The revamped image, which was revealed by METI at a Japanese Industrial Standards revision committee meeting last week, is one of 70 public symbols set to appear from next summer in order to meet standards set by the International Organization for Standardization. Other pictograms up for revision include the “do not touch” symbol, which looks at changing the current raised palm image to a hand touching a flat surface with a diagonal line crossing over it, and the “information office” sign, which will be changed from a question mark to the more universally used “i” symbol. In addition, the ministry plans to create 40 new symbols for foreign tourists, to indicate Wi-Fi hotspots, ATMs that accept overseas cash cards, and prayer rooms for Muslims.

It’s the change to the onsen mark, however, that has some residents concerned, with much larger ramifications for onsen resort towns and businesses that incorporate the current symbol in their logos and products. The pictogram, for example, is used as part of the city logo for Atami, a famous hot spring town in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Atami uses the logo on its flag and city seal, with many products, souvenirs and even manhole covers in the area bearing the mark. Like Atami, other onsen towns that use the mark are now faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to use the revised symbol on their products for foreign visitors or stick to the original design.

Onsen "manju" (photo below) soft sweet buns cooked by the steam of hot springs, are commonly stamped with the symbol, and they even have a cute character, Onsen Manju-kun, modelled after them. It’s yet to be revealed if the revision to the pictogram will affect them in the future.

Online comments in Japan regarding the proposed change to Japan’s onsen mark have included:

“I wish they would just leave the mark the way it is.” “I’m sad about the change but I can see how it’s important to make things less confusing for foreign visitors.” “If we change symbols like this so foreigners can understand them, where’s the respect for Japanese culture?” “Wouldn’t it have been better to add the word “onsen” in English underneath the original symbol?” “How is this less confusing? It looks like people are being boiled to death in a big pot.”

While final revisions to the 70 symbols will be made by the end of the fiscal year in March 2017, the pictograms approved by JIS will not affect maps, but will be widely used in public spaces like buildings, train stations and tourist areas.

Sources: Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, NHK, Twitter, Tokyo Shimbun

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese government recommends changing Buddhist temple mark on maps to avoid Nazi connotations -- New onsen facility in the heart of Tokyo’s business district to be ready for Olympics -- Japanese government encouraging hot springs to ease tattoo restrictions

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


46 Comments
Login to comment

"It looks like people are being boiled to death in a big pot.”

That's mostly how it feels too.

I think the new symbol is better.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

“If we change symbols like this so foreigners can understand them, where’s the respect for Japanese culture?”

Ah, the old "changing old things = disrespecting old things" fallacy. Where would any discussion of any kind of trivial aspect of semiotics be without it?

7 ( +13 / -6 )

I'll bet the folks who make the signs and billboards are going to be happy!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The cannibal club

6 ( +9 / -3 )

First time I saw the 'old' mark I didn't think it meant a restaurant that served hot food. I read on my tourist map that it meant hot spring and I..... Horrors! ... Learned it! This changing of the Onsen (another word I "learned") seems to indicate that foreigners can't learn anything Japanesey.

Are they also going to change that symbol of a T wearing a toupee (〒) so that we foriegners won't confuse it with a shop that sells wigs?

8 ( +11 / -3 )

This changing of the Onsen (another word I "learned") seems to indicate that foreigners can't learn anything Japanesey.

Err... no. If it indicates anything about foreigners collectively (which is a dubious assumption to begin with, let's not look for insults just for the sake of imagining we've been slighted), it's that there is a strong likelihood of foreigners using maps which don't have keys. Personally, I can't recall seeing a key on Japanese maps in years. And why should I? If your map requires a key, your map symbols are poorly designed.

Are they also going to change that symbol of a T wearing a toupee (〒)...

Already done. We talked about it last year.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Where else would so trivial a matter become news?

2 ( +6 / -4 )

The old mark is objectively bad. Unless somebody tells you what it means, there is little chance of guessing it correctly. I think that goes for foreigners as well as Japanese who see it for the first time out of context.

To me it looks like a hot pizza that smells really nice.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Love the new symbol..... now I know where to go for Human Soup.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

the symbol could be misinterpreted by foreigners as the mark of a restaurant that serves hot food.

Who comes up with this stuff? I've never heard of anyone following a map to an onsen in search of a hot meal.

It looks like people are being boiled to death in a big pot.”

Yes.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

"Where's the respect for Japanese culture?" That's laughable, but seriously how many oyajis and meetings and experts did it take to come to this conclusion? How many millions of yen?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

any change that helps people is greatly appreciated.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japan is like some misguided housewife getting all excited for a party nobody is going to come to.

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Love the new symbol..... now I know where to go for Human Soup.

It's the newest popular book in Japan..... "To Serve Man."

6 ( +7 / -1 )

New symbol is easy to understand for us also.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I really don't think there was a need for the change at all. A few free pamplets at the stations explaining this mark plus a few other things would have been a lot more useful. Also, people who are looking for Onsen probably will already have an idea of what the mark is. Personally, I think a much more pressing matter is the squat toilets. Those need to be changed sooner than a simple onsen mark.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Personally, I think a much more pressing matter is the squat toilets. Those need to be changed sooner than a simple onsen mark.

Yep, I've never had a foreign visitor (although I deal mainly with researchers not tourists) complain about map symbols, but plenty have said the old-fashioned toilets were difficult to use.

I like the old onsen symbol, myself. I guess it might be confusing at first glance, though.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Aaah....wasting huge sums of taxpayer funds on trivial things like this instead of allocating them efficiently where they are really needed. Where would J-bureaucracy be without it ? **

"seriously how many oyajis and meetings and experts did it take to come to this conclusion? How many millions of yen?" Precisely.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

what an horrible logo. indeed, looks like a bunch of people boiling, or the cannibal club like mentioned before. did they consult any foreigners before deciding the logo for ...foreigners ? Let me strongly doubt about it.....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Changing the symbol won't make a difference when tourists with tattoos won't be allowed in anyway.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

It's not like 2020 will be the first time foreigners come to Japan, but suddenly this is a problem.

During the 35 degree heat of the summer olympics, I'm skeptical that many foreigners will be eager to jump into 40 degree onsens, or eat hot soup dishes

And those who do want to get even hotter in an onsen would figure it out by using Google Maps on their smartphone anyway.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

According to the The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the symbol could be misinterpreted by foreigners as the mark of a restaurant that serves hot food. To avoid confusion, three people have been added to the onsen symbol, to clarify the fact that the image is used to represent hot spring bathing.

To the purple people visitors off New Guinea, that won't make any difference, lol

2 ( +2 / -0 )

beware of cannibals!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

boiled foreigners served here?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hmmmmm.... will be interesting to see how this all pans out. It may not be common knowledge to local bureaucrats but getting tattooed is wildly popular with youngsters (say under 35) outside Japan. what happens when they follow the sign and come up against some non-linguist onsen keeper who refuses them entry......

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Threesomes welcome.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

human hotpot

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gov't reveals new hot spring symbol for foreign tourists ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Humans being simmered, ready to be fried in a larger pan. Back to the drawing board please!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Katsu78: "And why should I? If your map requires a key, your map symbols are poorly designed."

Not at all, and especially not if they want to keep the same maps for use for foreigners as they have for locals, which is part of the point: no need to change the symbols, just add a key for all. Most maps have keys, or legends, including world maps. Hell, I saw my niece's report card today and it had a key and detailed explanation for what certain letters indicate. Does that mean report cards are poorly designed? Topographical maps? World maps?

But let me guess... You didn't mean what you said again and people are just reading into what you wrote?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The onsen symbol is popularly referred to by Japan's older generation as "sakasa kurage" -- upside-down jellyfish. Wonder what sort of nickname they will come up with for the new one.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

A thoughtful and considerate action to accommodate the temporary influx of foreigners. I prefer to keep the symbol unchanged so as to preserve cultural tradition. I will be curious to learn how popular onsens are with foreigners.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why should buns change their mark, or Atami change their city symbol? Nothing to do with helping foreigners find a hot tub.

Absolutely no reason at all for them to fall into line here, except perhaps some silly anal bureaucrat who may yet put in an unwanted appearance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why create new symbols when internationally recognized ones alrady exist?

Moreover, the new symbol had me thinking it was a family onsen (as in private room) due to the child sitting between two adults.

Why not simply combine the onsen symbol as is with the traditional restroom symbols for men and women? And as for the onsen symbol itself, it really is not that cryptic that foreigners wouldn't figure it out after one question/glance at a map.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am of the humble opinion that any foreigner who is interested in bathing nude with strangers has enough interest in the subject to research and remember a symbol that a second grader can understand.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If they kept the old one and added the new one for 混浴 (konyoku - mixed bathing), which is what it looks like to me, then we'd be making progress.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is awful!

Now more foreigners can better understand things, which means I have less opportunities to act like I know so much with all of these Japanese symbols T-T

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's a symbol from the old Twilight zone episode, "To Serve Man"!

I think the new symbol just makes it slightly more idiot proof.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

With only four short years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is gearing up to...

Just start building the stadium already, or announce that another venue has been chosen

2 ( +2 / -0 )

all they need to do is release the cookbook

anyway instead of just allowing Japanese culture to explain an existing symbol to remove confusion, they introduce another one to ensure it. Classic

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Oh Japan get over yourself and your unique unique culture. Open up to the world.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

did you realize that this is how kanji symbols evolve? all of them, their history. today it's a change for gaijin, lots of years ago it was a change for other tribes running aroung in japan that were not familiar with the current symbols

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The caption for the new logo should come with a subtitle:

To Serve Man.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“How is this less confusing? It looks like people are being boiled to death in a big pot.”

I absolutely love the comments made by posters in the article! So true! Completely unnecessary to change the symbols at all.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Yeah, you could just put a key at the bottom of the map and use the old one, but someone has to "make work." On the other hand, as many have pointed out, whether you're a cannibal or an onsen enthusiast, this new one will be hard to mistake.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the new symbol just makes it slightly more idiot proof. well, considering most foreigners that come to Japan don't have experience or find it interesting to sit in a hot tub with complete strangers, butt naked most of the time. at first impression, it looks like a cannibal club or something referring to cooking people!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Foreigners in onsens drinking beers that they bought in the lobby. Shouting to each other across the bath. Time to exit. Actually, I'm surprised only one person mentioned the tattoo taboo. An old friend from the UK visiting me in Japan got the universally understood crossed hand "dame" sign when he tried to enter the onsen in our hotel. They were having none of his explanation that his "sleeves" contained Japanese koi carp and cherry blossoms. He'd been prowling around the hotel in a T-shirt all day thinking he looked hard.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites