The somewhat macabre warning signs in the streets of Tokyo

If you ever go out exploring around Tokyo, you will have the chance to see various cartoony warning signs that highlight some sort potentially dangerous situation. They can range in style from formal to cute, but the ones that stand out are a strange mix of whimsy and horror.

The Japanese word for danger is abunai, but it almost feels like it has a vaguer meaning in Japanese than in English considering how it is thrown about in conversation and writing. In situations in English where native speakers would use phrasing like “be cautious” or “take care”, Japanese speakers are more likely to say “danger (abunai)!”. In other words, it feels like there is a higher danger frequency in Japanese.

Here are 3 of my favourite warnings I have seen around the city:

Literal translation "That crossing forgets the speed of the car"

Literal translation “That crossing forgets the speed of the car”

This is a warning mural in the middle of a long pedestrian crossing between Shinjuku and Takadanobaba on Meiji-douri. Is this 10 meter drawing warning the consequences of not briskly crossing the crosswalk, or is it painting the tragic story of a grandpa who’s tired old body couldn’t bring him across the road in time?

The thing is that on the other side of that mural is drawing done in the same style, but it shows a man without a helmet on a motorcycle with death riding in the rear. I could kick myself for not getting a photo of that last time I was over there. It is just as morbid as grandpa getting mowed over by a speeding car.


Literal translation “Grandpa, Grandma, that’s dangerous!”

This one gets me too… the child obviously does not want to walk right into traffic, but the grandpa/grandma is pulling her out in front of the cars. The text on the right says “A request to my grandma and grandpa who I love very much…” Is this based off of something that actually happened? Are old people remorseless jaywalkers? Does grandma have a death wish? This just opens up a whole can of worms.

Literal translation "DANGER!  DEFINITELY DO NOT GO IN."

Literal translation “DANGER! DEFINITELY DO NOT GO IN.”

This warning sign is pretty good in my opinion. The assertion of danger is clear. The lion obviously means business. I know that I should not go inside. Are there lions inside? I don’t know, and I’m not going to go find out.

If you go down smaller streets in Tokyo I’m sure you can find some amazing ones of your own. It is totally worth it to keep your eyes open. Be careful out there, because apparently danger is everywhere.


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