Do You Know The Secret Behind Kyoto’s Strangely Colored Signs?

Kyoto was once Japan’s capital for close to a thousand years, and this history has left Kyoto with rich traditions that reflect the historical and cultural values of Japan. What’s interesting is that this culture can even be observed through their signs! Restaurants, convenience stores, and others all have their signs and logos altered from their original colors to be surprisingly calm and toned down. Read on to discover the reason why these signs in Kyoto are re-colored, and see some examples of the more interesting signs in the city!

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Japan In-Depth

The Strict Regulations That Protect Kyoto’s Beautiful Cityscape

Surrounded by mountains on three sides, the city of Kyoto is blessed with nature, along with numerous world, historical, and cultural heritage sites left from its rich history of being Japan’s capital. However, similarly to other tourist sites across the world, Kyoto has experienced rapid technological advances and modernization, and a boom in tourists, commercial facilities, and restaurants has resulted, creating a city where tradition and modernity co-exist.

Kyoto’s cityscape is so distinctive, because they plan their city in a way that preserves its historical scenery. For the city to maintain its beauty, the Miyako Landscape Guidelines were created in 2007. These guidelines set strict regulations for the height and color of buildings, their design, and their outdoor advertisements. The very detailed regulations concerning roofs include “Roof tiles are to be silver-colored” and “Metal sheets other than copper sheets must be dark gray or black with no gloss”; regarding outer walls, “Walls with R hues [on the Munsell system] may not exceed 6 in value”. Many well-known businesses and enterprises have changed their logos according to these guidelines and have transformed into a look that can only be seen in Kyoto.

Let's Take a Look! How Different Are the Logo/Signs Designs in Kyoto, Compared to Other Prefectures?

So, how do the signs that follow these guidelines look? Below are some design comparisons for nationally and internationally famous brands, between their normal logos and their Kyoto locations.

Restaurants

●McDonald's

McDonald's is known worldwide for its red background and yellow logo. However in Kyoto, the logo remains yellow, yet the overall design blends in with the other buildings so much that it’s hard to recognise the store at first glance. Even if the style of the store and its sign don’t really differ from its other branches, most stores use brown-ish background colors in order to maintain the overall style of the city. 

●Starbucks

Starbucks is typically known for its white and green colors. However, as seen in the photos above, it has been transformed into a calmer design with a wood-like texture only seen in Kyoto. This Starbucks Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya branch is located on the road leading to Kiyomizudera temple, an area especially left to look like Japan in the olden days, lined with traditional Kyoto-style houses. This is another example where it’s blended into its surroundings so much that it’s hard to recognize.

●Sukiya

Japan’s major beef-bowl chain “Sukiya” operates around 2,000 branches within Japan (as of 2019), and in recent years, it has branched out overseas to countries such as China, Thailand, and Brazil. Its usual logo is designed with a red background with white and yellow lettering, but its Kyoto branch has toned itself down to a brownish, yellow ochre palette.

Convenience Stores

●7-Eleven

7-Eleven is Japan’s largest convenience store chain, operating over 20,000 branches in Japan alone and over 60,000 branches worldwide. It’s usually recognised by its orange, green, and red stripes, whereas in Kyoto, those stripes have been limited to a combination of brown and white. There are some branches that maintain its colorful logo, but make the white stripes transparent to de-emphsize the logo and blend it in with the traditional architecture.

●FamilyMart

With around 17,000 branches in Japan and 8,000 branches worldwide (most of them in Asia), Japan’s major convenience store chain FamilyMart is known for its lime green and white background with light blue lettering. We see here again that the color white takes up 70 to 90 percent of the sign as a way to tone down the emphasis of these logos and meet the cityscape guidelines. 

●LAWSON

LAWSON is another major Japanese convenience store chain with at least 15,000 branches within Japan, and in recent years has reached out to China, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. The design is usually light-blue with notes of pink and white lettering, but the Kyoto branches get creative by incorporating traditional Japanese designs. This includes lessening the light blue ratio and changing it to a more white-based design, to using black as a base color to tone down the overall design and using the light blue as more of an accent color among the surrounding tiled roofs.

Other Stores

●UNIQLO

With more than 2,000 branches worldwide, the apparel brand UNIQLO is known for its logo of white text on a red background. As seen above, some branches in Kyoto tone the design down somewhat by simply framing the logo with a white border. The design of the building itself has a chic look to it, making it blend in harmoniously with its surrounding buildings.

●Matsumoto Kiyoshi

Matsumoto Kiyoshi is a popular pharmacy chain, loved not only by local Japanese customers but by countless foreign visitors as well. Usually the store has an eye-catching yellow or red logo on a blue-based background, while in their Kyoto branches, they use a calm, gray-based sign even in shopping streets.

●au

Au is one of Japan’s domestic cell phone providers. In Kyoto, its eye-catching white-on-orange logo has been transformed into a surprisingly moderate color scheme. 

●Times

Times is a major car-parking and car-sharing service, with locations throughout the country. They usually use an eye-catching yellow sign, but this has transformed into a very simple black-and-white sign in Kyoto.

Kyoto-esque Etiquette Signs! Unique Signs In Tourist Sites

Etiquette signs such as “Do not walk in the middle of the street”, “Do not smoke on this street”, and “Do not touch the maiko [apprentice geisha]” are also becoming a unique Kyoto custom. Since many of the historical monuments are constructed by wood, so are these etiquette signs.

In this way, Kyoto gives its all to maintain its ancient traditions and beautiful cityscapes by building its community upon strict regulations. You might not have noticed if you didn't know, but with this knowledge, your trip to Kyoto might show you something new and interesting. 

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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