Pay Attention to the “Emergency” Kanji

By Ai Faithy Perez
September 9, 2015

Early on a Sunday morning, I was rudely jolted out of my peaceful sleep by raging sirens. My lovely, unable-to-read-difficult-kanji partner had pressed the emergency button instead of pressing kaihou (解放) to open the auto-lock door and let the delivery man into the apartment building. The result was the appearance on my doorstep of a man clad in full SWAT-like uniform with a visor over his face, asking after the bad guys.

This rude awakening reminded me of another real-life incident I’ve heard of, where someone tried to flush a high-tech Japanese toilet, but instead was drenched by the bidet system. Or worse yet, in another case, pushing the hijyo (非常) button and inadvertently summoning an aging uniformed fellow to knock on the toilet door, huffing and puffing from the jog, wondering if they were ok.

Below is a brief guide to kanji to be on the lookout for:

Hijyo (非常): The literal translation would be something like extremely or exceedingly (非常に), but on its own, it usually means “emergency.” Usually this kanji will be somewhere among the many toilet buttons. Should you ever fall ill, you may actually be grateful for an old fellow knocking on your toilet door.

Chuui (注意): This means attention or warning. So if you see this kanji, proceed with care. For example, mouken chuui (猛犬注意) is beware of the vicious dog. Or tenraku chuui (転落注意) means caution, mind the drop.

Kasai (火災): Fire, fire! Find this button in advance if you are learning to cook for the first time.

Kiken (危険): Danger or dangerous—this is the one to watch out for, especially if you have plans to travel north towards Fukushima. The kanji for hazardous waste is kiken haiki-mono (危険廃棄物). Another one to look out for is kiken jinbutsu (危険人物), dangerous person. According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in May 2015, one out of every 10 women in Japan have been victims of stalking behavior, with 28.9% of those fearing for their lives.

sign-7-caution by Davide Guglielmo cropped

Yojin (用心): On guard or caution are words we forget about when living in peaceful Japan, but a word to the wise: when doing laundry, keep your panties inside. There are jinbutsu (危険人物) out there.

Abunai (危ない): This has a colorful array of meanings, from dodgy to gravely ill. But generally when spoken, the word means “beware” or “be careful.” If someone shouts “abunai” out to you from across the street, a car may be coming your way. Watch out!

Keikoku (警告): Meaning to alert or to warn. You never know, it might come in handy one day.

Kinshi (禁止): Meaning forbidden or veto, these are maybe the two kanji we see the most here in the land where everything is not allowed. Perhaps the most surprising of all is the amount of Japanese who do such and such just because the sign says so. Below are some samples and their definitions:

Kinen (禁煙): No smoking

Chuusha Kinshi (駐車禁止): No parking

Chuurin Kinshi (駐輪禁止): No bicycle parking – perhaps the only sign Japanese people ignore

Tachiiri Kinshi (立入禁止): Keep out

Satsuei Kinshi (撮影禁止): No photos or videos

I’ve now labeled my intercoms with little sticky notes—in English—saying which buttons to press to let the parcel man in. Result! I hope to have a lie-in next Sunday.