I know Japanese. Why can’t I read signs in Hokkaido?

Place names in Japanese are difficult to read, because they combine kanji characters you wouldn’t see together in other situations. Once I finally started getting used to the combinations on Japan’s main island, I was dumb-struck by the names up north in Hokkaido. The combinations were highly unusual, and often used characters I’ve never seen elsewhere.

My article in the Japan Times explores why this is, and the relationship the names have with Ainu culture:

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