It might assist you when you don’t understand Japanese letters: Pictograms
When you do not understand the local characters, the mark called "pictogram" will be very useful. Here, we will introduce the meaning of typical pictograms used in Japan and the places where they are located.
This mark in green with a person running to the brighter space, is a pictogram telling "Emergency exit is here." The sign can be seen in many places, including schools, department stores, theaters and civic centers. In many cases, you will see this emergency mark being illuminated even in a dark place. In the unlikely event, stay calm and proceed in the direction of this mark.
For wheelchair users
Indicates the area is wheelchair-accessible. You will see this sign in places such as washroom, elevator, parking lot, etc. In some occasions, the sign guides wheelchair-accessible area such as slope instead of stairs. In case of restroom, if nobody is around, a person other than wheelchair user may be allowed, but in case of parking lot and such where you are to occupy the place for a long time, it is an etiquette to keep it open for wheelchair users.
It is a mark indicating “smoking is not allowed here.” Currently, Japan has a rule that it is easy on indoor smoking and strict toward outdoor smoking, so there are times you see this sign in open-air in downtown Tokyo. In some cases, like a traffic sign, nonsmoking time zone might be printed beside the sign. Such as indicating nonsmoking hours during crowded lunchtime while it is OK to smoke during other time zones.
Other prohibited matters
In public facilities, there may be cases in which "prohibited matters" are indicated by pictograms. For example, the above pictograms, from the left, mean "use of mobile phone prohibited" "do not touch," "no eating and drinking" and "no pets allowed." In Japan, there are relatively a lot of prohibited matters in public places, so do take note of these signs before you do prohibited acts unwittingly.
It is a mark that you see on a train or bus. Figures from the left represents a child and a parent, a pregnant woman, an elderly person, and an injured person. Four types of people listed are just examples, while people such as those suffering illness, or those in need of seat who cannot tell by appearance can use this space.
In an emergency, try finding this mark which stands for hospital.
There is a police officer in the area with this sign. You can consult an officer when you become a victim of a crime or ask for directions.
It is a design representing steam rising from water, indicating that there are hot springs in the inn, or there are public bath of hot springs in tourist spots.
It is a design of a symbol representing "Japanese yen" or Japanese currency. In commercial facilities and such, you will find this mark at cashier area.
Differences between men and women are represented by a figure wearing slacks (men) and a figure wearing a skirt (women) as described above. Blue (men),
red (women) is another way of distinguishing the genders.
It is a design of a train seen from the front. You will find a station in a place with this sign.
Tourist Information Office / Information Center
It is a place where information tourists need is assembled, such as information on the area, arrangement of hotels for the night and car rental. In some cases you can obtain a map, or speak with multilingual staffs. "?" represents a manned information center, while in some cases "i" may represent unmanned office.
Strictly speaking, it is not a pictogram, but generally, it is a mark that represents a post office. It is said to be a design of the first letter of “Teishinsho” a ministry which had jurisdiction over postal service in the old days. In addition to sending letters and luggage, the office offers luggage keeping service, ATM in which you can withdraw Japanese yen, so it’s a place useful for travelers in various aspects.
Pictogram image provided: The Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation