Miswritten character on a Tokyo Metro sign

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From Matthew Duggan:

As a Tokyo resident, I take an interest in the failing ability of those in China and Japan to write and distinguish characters due to computer use. [VHM:  See, inter alia, here, here, here, here, and here.]

I could write 1,000 characters at my peak, but with constant computer use I’m down to my address and a few other common ones.

 In that spirit, I thought you might like this news story.

The story Matthew linked to is in Japanese, but it features these two (perhaps not so) revealing photographs:

Matthew continues:

A fairly well known metro station in Tokyo, 北千住 (Kitasenjuu) got new signs that clearly read 北干住 (kitakanjuu??).  It’s hard to work out how this happened – anyone who types the place name will be given the right characters.  Did they specify the signs via handwriting over fax?  How did no one notice all the way up to getting the signs on the wall? Even *I* could probably write this one correctly!

A Tokyo Metro spokesman said “If you glance at it, it’s hard to notice, but when you compare it to the other signs you notice.  It’s very embarrassing.”  Indeed.

This error is particularly amusing in light of the fun we've had with 干 in the past.  See, among other posts:


  1. Eric TF Bat said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 4:58 am

    A general comment for you, not on this particular topic; I just felt like saying something.

    Many years ago, when I was visiting my father's parents in Dapto, south of Sydney, I used to while away the millennia reading old Reader's Digests. A story I remember was one of those jingoistic "funny foreigner" tales, observing that illiterate peasants in China (I'm not sure they used the p-word, but the intent was roughly similar) used to collect newspapers and other disposable printed matter and treat them with great reverence. The implication was that, even for these poor (amusing) illiterates, the written word was so important that it inspired a religious dedication among them, or some such pre-digested moral.

    I keep being reminded of this story when I read your articles. I don't know any Chinese that I didn't learn from Firefly (so that would be "none at all", comes the chorus from purists) but I love reading your articles on topics like this, because of the cultural richness they demonstrate. There is an entire world I know almost nothing about! It's like dipping into an epic science fiction series, catching glimpses of the fascinating aliens (that's the modern pronunciation of the old term "funny foreigners") and their astonishingly normal lives.

    Thank you for this insight!

  2. J. M. Unger said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    This reminds me of the time I saw a bookcase in a Japanese bookstore bearing the plastic sign 文字, which should have been 文学. I would guess that this kind of mix-up of graphically related characters occurs most often when people have to make physical signs. On computers, because of the way popular input systems work, errors most often involve characters with shared readings.

  3. Frank L Chance said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 9:28 am

    The particular sign in question makes me wonder–did they get it right on the smaller characters designating next and previous stops at the stations before and after Kitasenjū?

  4. Guy said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    Could somebody who knows more about Japanes than me help me out? The hiragana and romaji indicate a pronunciation of kitasenju, but people here are calling it "kitasenjuu". The "juu" reading of 住 is listed in most sources I looked up just now but only a few mention "ju". Is the "juu" reading just influenced by the kanji, or is it a better representation of how it's actually pronounced, or is "juu" a higher register pronunciation (perceived as "careful articulation"), or is something else going on here?

  5. Frank L Chance said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

    The standard reading of 住 is juu (or, in my usual practice, jū), but in this particular name it is shortened to ju. Both Matthew and I read it as Kitasenjū (きたせんじゅう) though the official name of the station is Kitasenju (きたせんじゅ)。Mea culpa for misreading a character in a comment on a post on misreading another character.

  6. Guy said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 3:07 pm

    @Frank: thanks for the clarification. And I mistyped "Japanese", which is arguable a more embarrassing error.

    but I missed the obvious joke in my first comment:



  7. Jim Breen said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 7:25 pm

    住 has two recognized on-readings, ジュウ and ジュ. The former is the regular (慣用) reading and the latter is regarded as a 呉音, i.e. original Chinese, reading. I have only seen ジュ/じゅ used in names, as in 千住/北千住.

  8. Brendan said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

    I'd be interested to hear any theories as to how this might've come about. It's not too hard to imagine the error occurring in handwriting, or with a stroke-based input system — but are the latter used in Japan?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 1, 2015 @ 8:32 am

    I was thinking the exact same thing as Brendan. How did it happen?

    For those who are not familiar with Chinese characters, there must be considerable perplexity over just what the fuss is all about. The difference in the declination of the top stroke of these otherwise identical three-stroke characters is minuscule, especially in the font that they use on the subway signs.

    Some comments from Japanese language teachers on the question of the pronunciation of the name of the station:

    I think it is read as "Kita Senju". "u" in this case is not a long vowel.
    There is also "Minami Senju".


    The pronunciation of 住 is normally 'juu' (extra u), but 北千住 is a place name, and is a bit irregular. ju (Kitasenju) is the correct pronunciation.

    It should be read as "Kitasenju," according to the several sources in the internet. No long vowel. I didn't know that since 住 is read as juu (long vowel). I guess this is the special case not to read juu but ju. So Kitasenju it is.

    Kita-Senju = station name


    Verifiable pronunciation from hiragana:

    http://www.jreast.co.jp/estation/station/info.aspx?StationCd=571 (near top left)

    The character 住 is normally jū, but toponyms and personal names have never cared much for the rules.

  10. richard said,

    August 1, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    "…toponyms and personal names have never cared much for the rules" is possible the greatest understatement regarding the Japanese language I have ever read. That one made my day!

  11. Jim Breen said,

    August 1, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

    As I commented yesterday, there is nothing irregular about the ジュ/ju reading of 住. It's a recognized 名乗り (name) reading.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 6:44 am

    @Jim Breen

    What's interesting is that so many native speakers think it's irregular.

  13. Jim Breen said,

    August 2, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

    @Victor. I guess it comes down to what is meant by regular/irregular. It's certainly listed in the major 漢和字典, but it is not on the list of readings approved by the education ministry (ジュウ, すまう, すむ). Name-only readings are very common, and I think it's bit strong to label them as "irregular". The male given name 英一 is often read ひでかず (Hidekazu), although neither ひで nor かず makes it onto the ministry's list.

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