CJ Column


Standard graphical symbols in web design

This is a loosely translated English version of a Japanese article from the CJ Column.

When designing websites, we sometimes receive requests from clients to use graphical symbols that meet international standards being considered for use at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Terms like “graphical symbols”, “international standards”, “JIS standards” and “universal design” are often heard in the news. But what do they mean?


What are graphical symbols?
A graphical symbol is a simple drawing used on road signs, at airports, etc. to clearly convey a message to almost anyone including people from different cultures who speak different languages.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is currently revising domestic standards for graphical symbols in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Symbols in Japan often comply with JIS or ISO standards.

What is JIS?
JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) was established in 1954 to promote industrial standardization in Japan. As of March 2009, well over 10 thousand graphical symbols comply with JIS standards and many are commonly used in everyday life in Japan.

What is ISO?
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is an independent organization composed of representatives from 161 countries (including Japan) that promotes international common standards to facilitate smooth international trade.

Sample graphical symbols recently reviewed by METI


  1. Parking lot

    Old JIS symbol                                           ISO symbol

The old JIS graphical symbol was commonly understood by Japanese. But “P” could mean any number of things to foreigners. So the ISO symbol, which reduces misunderstandings, now receives support from METI for use in Japan.

  1. Baggage claim

    Old JIS symbol                                         ISO symbol

In this case as well, the JIS symbol showing baggage alone could have various meanings. The ISO symbol including a person and conveyor for clarification is now supported by METI.

  1. Baby care room

     Old JIS symbol                                           ISO symbol

An image of a baby could suggest various things. The ISO symbol makes the intended meaning clear and is now supported by METI for use in Japan.


  1. Hot spring

      Old JIS symbol                                                    ISO symbol

The hot spring symbol is currently a hot topic because many foreigners think the JIS symbol could mean “hot food”, but many Japanese fear the ISO symbol may be mistaken for a “mixed gender bath.” For now, METI supports both symbols.

It’s interesting to see how standardization of graphical symbols is progressing in Japan. If you’re involved in designing websites for foreigners, you might want to make a habit of checking out the latest international standards for graphical symbols.


シトラスジャパン チラシ・フライヤー デザインサービス



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