Japanese appliances are great: They talk to you, have magical functions you never even dreamed of and play you pretty melodies. If only you could understand what they are talking about!

We are here to rescue. Below is an overview of how to read the kanji (Japanese characters) on the most common electronics in your Japanese apartment, from the intercom to the shower to the washing machine.

English translations for the Japanese on your appliances and electronics

Your devices may not look exactly like the ones below, but should be similar enough, with similar options. Overall, the buttons and functions are the same, so just look for the same Japanese characters and you will understand how to use them in no time.

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Let’s start with an easy one. You only have to remember two buttons to buzz someone up to your apartment. To make things even easier, the magic button that unlocks the front door usually also has a key symbol next to it. The button that lets you speak to someone is usually the bigger one located on the bottom of the intercom. For some you need to hold it to speak, for others, you press once to speak and once again to turn it off.

japanese to english translation intercom door
Photo by Amanda Parks

Hot water system

Unless you live in an extremely old apartment, your water temperature is regulated via a digital display like this one below. There are only two important ones to remember:

  • The on/off button — There will be no hot water if the system is off, but once turned on, hot water will flow immediately.
  • The temperature dials – Temperature will be shown in degrees Celsius on the display.

Your display might have a couple more fancy functions though, e.g. auto bath for automatically filling a bath for you at 40 degrees and stopping the water flow once the tub is full.

Japan bathroom hot water
Photo by Amanda Parks

Bathroom fan

Most places also have a high-tech display to regulate the bathroom fan. Usually, these are kept on 24 hours to avoid mold, so look for the 24/7 on button. If you want to stop the constant ventilation, pressing down that button for a few seconds usually does the trick. Often, you can also set a timer for your ventilation system, which is useful for some of the other functions like the dryer if you want to hang up and dry some clothes in your bathroom.

bathroom fan ventilation
Photo by Amanda Parks

Mailroom delivery box

If you live in a nicer building, you might have a delivery box in the mailroom where parcels can be left for you. They should follow a system similar to this one: Tap the digital display next to the delivery box and see if your apartment number flashes up. If yes, you got mail. Press your number and then enter the pin code that your real estate agent has given you for the delivery box, followed by 確認. The box will pop open and you can take your delivery.

mail room delivery box japanese to english translation
Photo by Amanda Parks

Washing machine

Let’s move on to the more complicated appliances. In principle, you can operate your washing machine by pressing the 入 (on) button, loading your laundry and adding detergent, then pressing スタート (start). If you want to select a course, the amount of water that goes in, or how many wash/rinse cycles you want to run, do so after pressing “on”.

Some washing machines are two-in-one washer/dryers and they will have the dryer function buttons shown on the pictures below. Those are great for a shirt or two, but they typically don’t handle full loads well.

japanese to english translation washing machine
Photo by Amanda Parks

Air conditioner

Probably the most vital remote in your household in pretty much any season (which either seems to be incredibly cold or unbelievably humid)! The most important functions to remember are the temperature dials and the different modes. On this sample remote the modes are on the left: hot, cold or dehumidify. You can also set the wind speed, angle and a timer—e.g. if you want to run the air-con for just a bit before you fall asleep.

air con remote translation japanese to english
Photo by Amanda Parks

Ceiling light remote control

Even your light might come with some functions! Besides turning the light on and off with a remote, it usually allows you to set it to warmer/cooler and brighter/dimmer light. If you like being told how to live, the remote might also have a few pre-sets like reading or relaxing mode.

ceiling light translation japanese to english
Photo by Amanda Parks

TV remote control

Finally, if you own a Japanese TV, here is an overview of where you can find most functions on your remote, like selecting a channel, volume and opening the settings.

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japan tv remote control
Photo by Amanda Parks

Special thanks to Amanda Parks for her images and translations.

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