注意 chuui – Caution

Warning signs are ubiquitous in Japan. Some of the signs have wonderful pictures illustrating the terrible fate that will befall you if you ignore the sign.

Here we see a grinning figure of death emerge from the swamp and grab an innocent child, evidently with the intention of dragging him/her down to a watery demise. Even the fish looks horrified. It’s an old sign, so the writing あぶない “Danger” has faded almost to nothing, leaving only the exclamation mark clearly visible. Which seems appropriate.

This sign warns us in bright colours and stark fonts: “DANGER! Beware of the CROWS.” The exact nature of the danger is not made clear, although it’s a little alarming to note that the crow in the picture has demonic red eyes. It’s a poster that sets you to wondering why, exactly, the collective name for crows in English is a “murder” (and why you never wondered that before). Having said that, I can’t have been too scared, because rather than fleeing in terror from the talons of the demon corvids, I stopped and took this photo.

This big chuui says 電線注意: Beware of the electric cables.

Another classic drowning image, extensively faded and battered but still disturbing. The boy’s eyes have been replaced with a big X, reminiscent of the kanji 殺 meaning to kill. Originally, the doomed boy is shouting たすけて ”HELP”. But the writing has faded to white and we are left with the appearance of his life force escaping out his mouth.

This more modern image spares us some of the horror but none of the drama. We meet this boy at the very moment of splash-landing in the water, but the expression on his face tells us all we need to know about his chances of survival. In a few minutes there will be a big X where his eyes used to be, and he knows it.

Take a close look at the picture in the bottom left of this sign. It seems three people (or possibly two people and a seal) have been caught in a whirpool and are going around and around. One of them has had the foresight to put on a life-belt before venturing in, so he’s not going to drown. He’s just doomed to go round, and round, and round. Not drowning, but waving. But that’s not the strangest thing about this picture. The strangest thing is that there are numbers, dollar and cent symbols, as well as a percent sign floating on the surface of the water. What can it mean? Were these foolhardy people lured into the water by money, only to drown in their own greed?

 

Note on the word of the day:

注意     chuu-i  is written with kanji that mean approximately “concentrate” or “direct” and “attention” or “mind”.

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8 thoughts on “注意 chuui – Caution

  1. Hey, thanks for dropping by! I’ve been living in Japan for 10 days now, so I’m an old hand (not really!) I enjoyed your posts about kappa and namazu. Strangely, I haven’t noticed either of those (kappa or namazu) featured in signs in Osaka. I’ll watch out for them though.

    Please feel free to read and comment. As a newcomer to Japan, I would welcome your perspective on my observations and impressions.

    1. >I’ve been living in Japan for 10 days now

      Oh, only ten days! How long will you stay in Japan?
      What country are you from?

      You know many Japanese words. How did you learn?

  2. I’m from Ireland and I plan to stay here for exactly a year. I’ve been lucky enough to be seconded to work for a Japanese utility company. I will start work next week; for the moment we are kept busy just settling in to our new home and organising all the things we need.

    I’ve been learning Japanese (not very effectively) for many years, as my wife is Japanese. Mostly self-study. As you say, I know a lot of words and kanji, but unfortunately I can’t yet speak, understand or read very well. I intend to use the next 12 months as an opportunity to change that!

  3. When speaking about kanji, also worth mentioning is the classical written phrase “立入禁止”, which you are bound to find often in Japan,
    and which is actually the abbreviated form of “立ち入り禁止” (“tachiiri kinshi” = “no trespassing”).
    It consists of the following characters/words:
    立ち “tachi” = “standing”
    入り “iri” = “entering”
    “立ち入り”: “tachiiri” = “trespassing”
    禁: “kin” = “forbidden”, “prohibited”
    止: “shi” = “stop”
    The “ち” and “り” characters in “立ち入り” are so-called “furigana” — syllabic characters used to indicate which word it is or in which grammatical form it is. Since the combination “立ち入り” is so ubiquitous, it’s often written with furigana omitted: “立入”.

    Why “禁” is here used with that additional “止”, and not by itself, I don’t know. Perhaps somebody can help me?

  4. You are right – I see 立ち入り禁止 signs a lot around here, as well as 駐車禁止. Those are two of the most common notices I see around.

    I haven’t seen the abbreviated version yet, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    I don’t think it’s strange that 禁 and 止 got combined together into a compound word. In general I would say that single characters with their “Chinese” kun-yomi pronunciations aren’t very happy alone and like to combine into pairs.

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