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Gov't reconsiders plan to change Japan's iconic hot spring symbol after backlash

55 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Japan is extremely excited about hosting the 2020 Olympics. Since the Games were awarded to Tokyo three years ago, hardly a week goes by without an announcement or report about how some organization is getting ready for the influx of foreign visitors that will be coming to the capital to watch the world’s finest athletes compete.

Among the measures being considered are reforms regarding the iconography used on Japanese maps, signs, and tourist literature. In January, the government began looking into replacing the traditional symbol for Buddhist temples to avoid confusion with the Nazi swastika, and in July, it unveiled a new symbol to be used to designate the nation’s numerous hot springs, or onsen, as they’re called in Japanese.

The currently used symbol consists of three pillars of steam rising out of a pool of naturally heated water. However, the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee, part of the government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, worries that this could be misconstrued as indicating a restaurant that serves hot food, and so created a replacement that adds a trio of bathers to the design.

On December 6, the Industrial Standards Committee released the results of a poll in which 70 percent of surveyed foreigners said they found it easy to grasp the meaning of the new symbol. However, the same study also showed that 60 percent of the Japanese residents who were asked for their opinion are against abolishing the old onsen symbol.

Opposition to the change is particularly strong in Gunma and Oita. Both prefectures draw large numbers of tourists to their popular hot spring resorts, and both also claim to be the birthplace of the current people-free onsen symbol. Yasuhiro Nagano, the mayor of Oita’s town of Beppu (who’s been making headlines recently for his plan to build an onsen theme park in his constituency), went so far as to assert that the current onsen symbol is a part of the town’s traditional culture, and added that “As a citizen of Beppu, I have concerns about the symbol being discontinued so quickly.”

Hospitality providers have also voiced concerns about doing away with the current symbol, which is heavily featured in graphic designs used for rail stations, sightseeing maps, and souvenirs in hot spring communities. In light of the unexpectedly strong opposition, the Industrial Standards Committee has announced that it is rethinking its position as it weights the pros and cons of keeping the onsen symbol as it is, and that it will make its final decision in March of next year.

Source: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese mayor responds to public after “spamusement park” onsen video reaches 1 million views -- New onsen facility in the heart of Tokyo’s business district to be ready for Olympics -- Learn all about enjoying a traditional Japanese-style ryokan inn from this nine-minute video!

© Japan Today

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.


55 Comments
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So the need to communicate clearly takes a back seat to the pride of getting your way on the project.

Sounds like every Engrish-by-committee I've ever heard of.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

Leave the damn symbol as it was. Foreigners coming to Japan do not need to be treated like children. A part of going to a foreign country is the learning process that one goes through while experiencing life there. This is just one tiny aspect of it, but it is very important to the people whose very livelihood depends upon their customers.

31 ( +35 / -4 )

Guess they don't have anything better to do. ("...the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee")

I assume that this is just another government agency getting funded with tax payer's money?

On the other hand, if it helps foreigners to understand Japan(ese culture) better, so shall it be.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The original hot spring symbol is easy to understand. It's not rocket science.

19 ( +21 / -2 )

The graphic looks like guests at a cannibal fondue.

27 ( +28 / -1 )

The original hot spring symbol is easy to understand. It's not rocket science.

Have to keep in mind, this IS Japan, the land where the "easy" becomes difficult, and the "hard" becomes nearly impossible, so in effect, yes it is rocket science, because even these so called experts have no friggin idea about what they are doing!

15 ( +19 / -4 )

70 percent of surveyed foreigners said they found it easy to grasp the meaning of the new symbol...

As a starting point... What is the percentage of foreigners that found it easy to grasp the meaning of the OLD symbol ? Revealing this would probably highlight what a waste of time and money this has all been.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Always thought it was a sign for 'nikuman sold here'. Live and learn.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Next we will change our currency to US dollars as 10000 yen notes are too confusing.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Next we will change our currency to US dollars as 10000 yen notes are too confusing.

That escalated quickly.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Plain and simple, it is easy enough to print some brochures and signs up at the airport and hotels to explain what the (original) symbol means, then trying to change the MILLIONS of instances of it throughout Japan. The thing is carved into wood signs, painted on countless road signs, in infinite maps and brochures already. There is no way you are going to catch all of them by 2020 and then you will have TWO different onsen signs around Japan adding to the confusing.

They are trying to change Japan to make is more gaijin friendly, but good lord they can't see the forest for the trees. There are so many more archaic things Japan needs to worry about.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

That symbol has also been used euphemistically to mean a love hotel, which is another reason to like (or dislike) it.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Yubaru...my thoughts exactly. Easy is made difficult and the hard becomes impossible.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

The new symbol is also misleading as families may think onsen are private hot baths they can enjoy as a family. Once dudes/dads realise they will be sharing the bath with other lads, and no women, they may not find it as 'exciting' as they initially thought it would be.

Few bevs at the local boozer while the missus enjoys onsen with the 10yo daughter is way more exciting.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Symbols on a map are meant to inform the uninformed, and the original symbol is objectively not fit for purpose. The polling evidence proves this and there's no getting around it, sorry. Yes, every Japanese person already knows what it means, but only because they've learned it at some point in their lives. The new symbol has been proven to be far more intuitive.

A similar example of this might be the spinning red, blue and white barber's pole outside many hair salons. Most people know what it means and appreciate the history behind it, but it's also very culturally specific and something you must be taught. A pair of scissors is far more intuitive when you see it on a map so it's not at all surprising that a standards agency would propose this change.

Of course, those who want to preserve the old symbol can still keep using it on their business and merchandise if they want. It won't become illegal. The bigger problem in Japan seems to be that everyone thinks they have to act in unison and follow the authority's lead on absolutely everything.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

You'd think with the history of Ishikawa Goemon they'd understand the meaning of the icon sigh.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

However, the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee, part of the government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, >>worries that this could be misconstrued as indicating a restaurant that serves hot food,

The Japanese logic at its best, the first symbol suggest a hot food restaurant, let's put 3 people in the exact same design and it will look like onsen...

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The new symbol is also misleading as families may think onsen are private hot baths they can enjoy as a family.

Some of them are.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

And this is what our taxes pay for...the METI bureaucrats on their inflated salaries muddling through this kind of meaningless BS. How many of the tourists that have visited Japan till now had any sort of troubles with the current sign? For friggin sake METI can you get your staff to work on something productive? Oh yeah, no of course not.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Well obviously the icon needs to be of a naked person in the bath. Clearly Japan doesn't want foreigners bathing with clothing on so the icon needs to be changed again to illustrate this point. A naked guy - with no tattoos - getting in with his towel on his head. And another symbol for women.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The new symbol may even be more confusing to some tourists because it looks like "We cook people!"

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I will agree to changing the Japanese symbol that looks like a Swastika if all other people entering Japan change their names if their names may cause confusion. For example, anyone named "Gary" should immediately change their name or use a different name as "Gary" is pronounced ゲリ下痢 which means "diarrhea" in Japanese. We certainly don't want confusion with someone announcing they are loose bowels. Same goes for anyone named "Ben." A person saying "Hi, Ben!" (written in Japanese as はいべん排便) means to evacuate one's bowels. Again one can only imagine the confusion caused when Ben's friends yell "Hi, Ben!" across a crowded hotel lobby. So if we are going to ask Japan to change a symbol that is hundreds if not thousands of years old let's make sure people coming here change anything that could possibly cause confusion.

The alternative of course is to just accept the differences that other cultures offer.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

In January, the government began looking into replacing the traditional symbol for Buddhist temples to avoid confusion with the Nazi swastika

Ridiculous ! If people can't see that the swastika is two entwined Ss and the Temple sign is two entwined Zs, they need their eyes checked.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I liked the threesome sign.. much more fun in the bath that way

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I'd like a job with this "Japanese Industrial Standards Committee." I would imagine my workday goes something like this.

"Well, how can waste taxpayer money today on some year-long unnecessary research to solve a problem that doesn't exist?"

8 ( +8 / -0 )

doing everything they can to avoid having to answer questions from foreigners

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Some people have too much time on their hands.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I first saw this symbol in Korea, I also thought it was a bbq :P

0 ( +3 / -3 )

seriously , most foreigners dont come to Japan to share a hot bath with dozens of other naked strangers. I got tired of using them when everybody wanted to get a glimpse of my tool, being a gaijin. And yes Im use to sharing showers with other men when I use to play football in my younger years. While my junk isnt anything to be ashamed of I just prefer to relax while showering/bathing instead of turning into a side show.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Oh, c'mon, figuring out a picture symbol is easy. This is a solution in search of a problem.

If they really want to do something to ensure more foreign visitors are able to enjoy Japan's amazing onsens, convince the onsen operators to do away with their stupid rules regarding tattoos!! Now THAT would solve an actual problem!

7 ( +9 / -2 )

While they can be confusing, learning about local symbols can be a joy, if not just educational. True, some can be controversial if visitors make it so, like idiots who think the symbol for temple is a Nazi swastika, but again -- learning experience. The local people should not have to change a long-time symbol to something else, especially when the new one is ridiculous. You should see some of the symbols being proposed at airports and even restrooms because they seem to think foreigners will 'be confused'. It's always a matter of misdirecting one's thoughts onto others in Japan. "You will like this!" "Cool jJapan!" etc. Some of the manga replacements for traditional symbols are GAWD awful!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Among the measures being considered are reforms regarding the iconography used on Japanese maps, signs, and tourist literature.

Didn't the committee think of including a legend on the maps or literature, or is that too mundane?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

There was an article about this on the TV a couple of days ago. A room of at least sixty people, none of them under the age of sixty, sitting around earnestly agreeing with each other in a government meeting room on our dime. I shudder to think how many man-hours we paid for this committee to remain inert.

The news show asked around non-Japanese in town, and over 70% of them thought it indicated a tea room. So you could argue that there’s a good case for making the sign more immediately understandable to the visitor, particularly if the government has staked our economic future on increased tourism.

But what a surprise, change was stifled by a bunch of retirement-aged people reluctant to accept any change, on the standard this-is-Japanese-culture excuse they trot out any time there’s no logical defence for a position.

Why, it’s almost as if they don’t want foreign bottoms sitting down in their baths. Japanese patrons might feel it uncomfortable to share the bath with those of impure blood. Come and experience Japanese traditional culture! No, just give us the money and say it’s wonderful.

Where is your omotenashi now?

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Yokoso, but not too much, it might inconvenience your host nation.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

This is not a good idea to change either symbols. If travelers all over can't do a little research before they visit a foreign country then they should just stay at home, where everything is easy for them.

These symbols are one of the reasons that make a country unique and if you constantly dumb down ones culture to cater to foreigners, then what would be the point to travel - everytting would just be the same.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The new Onsen symbol looks like two men and a boy in a steamy situation! Could be misleading to some people as well:-/

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The new sign looks pretty gay.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The new sign is a face. Two dots for the eyes, one dot for the nose, two cheek bones and one mouth.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Setting aside nationalists who don't want to change a single thing in Japan and money/time wasting committees, the old symbol for "onsen" is not one easily recognizable internationally. It could mean "hot soup", "liquid waste disposal facility" or even "nose diving jelly fish". Just because (some?) Westerners and permanent residents in Japan understand what it means, does not necessarily mean that visitors from ALL OVER THE WORLD will immediately grasp the meaning. So personally I understand the effort to improve on the symbol, and yes the new one is towards the more easily identifiable direction. To those who are more confused, how when you see the "male/female" symbol on a train station you immediately understand that it means WC? Having said that, googling "hot spring map symbol" shows only the old one and nothing else. I also agree that on maps etc a symbol explanation solves any misunderstanding. How about more important and urgent symbols like "hospital"? Will they keep the (red) cross symbol? Many Japanese maps don't have it.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I think most Japanese are against the new mark simply because it is not beautiful. They could have made a better mark.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Just stay simple. I agree that the old sign is easy enough to understand, even if not that's a rare experience that foreigners can get only by visiting Japan. Leave it be.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"You'd think with the history of Ishikawa Goemon they'd understand the meaning of the icon sigh."

"The new symbol may even be more confusing to some tourists because it looks like "We cook people!"" ....................................................................................................... The new symbol is an obvious warning to visiting Christians to renounce their faith or face the consequences à la Ishikawa Goemon. They say human flesh does taste a bit like pork... terrible, terrible change for a great icon.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

why not just put a Key on the map with what the symbols mean ! people are not stupid you put the "shrine symbol" = english, french, korean ect. people will normally figure it out !

Waite i should know better i work retail ! people are stupid !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Totally agree with CH3CHO. They crammed too much into the new symbol.

Also, if this was on a small paper based map, it would be hard to recognize what it is without a Key to explain anyway.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I would never think that the current sign means hot food, but if it does, than that new symbol looks like a cannibal's hot pot. Freshly cooked people. How backward do we think Japan can get?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Dman112: "This is not a good idea to change either symbols. If travelers all over can't do a little research before they visit a foreign country then they should just stay at home, where everything is easy for them."

I think that's a little extreme. It shouldn't need to be changed within reason, and if there is a legend provided for the symbols. I think there are instances where the symbols should be changed, like if they are off ensive (might not be in some cultures, but would be in others), or just by sh her coin cidence have a bad meaning (usually with newly created ones) -- that is, so long as the nation in question wants others to come. If they don't then keep everything the way it is. There is sometimes room for com promise, in other words. I think in this case the on sen symbol is fine as is, and quite widely recognized here and has been in use for a long time.

The only problem I have with keeping it as it has been for some time is that the people most adamant about doing so (in Beppu) are ONLY adamant about it because it was created there; not because it's good, not because the new one is terrible, but solely because it is their claim to fame. That kind of unreasonable loving it because it's from where you are is what sullies the reputation of so many towns in this country (they will love criminals and vote for convicted felons into office so long as they are from their hometown and famous).

CH3CHO: "I think most Japanese are against the new mark simply because it is not beautiful."

I think you're speaking for yourself. It's not like the old symbol is "beautiful", and it's not like a lot of the new manga symbols for things -- which are often so rid iculous they become famous for the wrong reasons -- are beautiful, either. I think for most it's just being against change, plain and simple, and again in the case of those most against it they are against change because they are from where the original logo was created. I mean, the mayor of Beppu is saying the sign is "a part of the Beppu culture" and that changing it is like an attack on their culture, etc. He doesn't say a thing about the new logo being overcomplicated, or just downright weird.

It looks like they want to cook people.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

People, we're talking about symbols on a map. Not renaming Mount Fuji to Mount Steve, but something to help guests who are coming to spend oodles of cash in your country. Who cares.

That's first, but second and most important is underneath that symbol it should say: Tattoos not allowed because that'll save many of us the time of finding what the symbol is supposed to represent.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

That's first, but second and most important is underneath that symbol it should say: Tattoos not allowed because that'll save many of us the time of finding what the symbol is supposed to represent.

I've been to many, many onsen (I go 2-3 times a year with the family), and my tattoos have never been an issue.

Disclaimer: I'm white. If you're East Asian, you may not find the same results as I do.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've been to many, many onsen (I go 2-3 times a year with the family), and my tattoos have never been an issue.

Must have gone to onsens where Yak's are allowed too.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Must have gone to onsens where Yak's are allowed too.

Maybe, I have no idea if they are allowed or not, I never research ahead of time whether or not they allow tattoos. I just pick the one I want to go to, and go.

The only time my tattoos have ever been an issue is at a sento (public bath). I've been asked to leave. But never from a hot spring.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strangerland:

I've been to many, many onsen (I go 2-3 times a year with the family), and my tattoos have never been an issue.

Same here, I probably go about 5-10 times a year, and only once have I had someone say something to me (a fellow bather, not an employee.)

Now Public pools are completely different, they are very strict and the employees will get you every time.

Yubaru':

Must have gone to onsens where Yak's are allowed too.

Nope, all the ones I have been to have been the hotel onsen or road side onsen in the country.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

All readers back on topic please.

Keep the old sign. Anyone who has read about onsen will understand the sign.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Onsen have More family units but some have large units that strangers mix. The above symbol indicates family unit. I think symbols are for foreign tourists. Use family unit if you have tattoo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you think the older symbol represented a hot bowl of soup, then you may also think the revised symbol shows cannibalism by representing people being served in a hot bowl lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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