I decided that since all I could understand were pictures in signs, many less obvious than others, my solution for all future communication issues would be drawings, either prepped in advance if I knew what I would be asking, or done on-the-fly with the hopes that someone would grasp the meaning. I had lots of practice interpreting Japanese signs, so I figured I'd do just fine... Today we figured out our train to get to Beppu with the help of little drawings of trains and tracks with circles and numbers and things. Most effective.
"Below this sign you will find singing she-male cyclists in races" (though I was unable to find any)
"Slipping beneath gymnastics rings will result in explosion" (It's been quite rainy, so there've been lots of opportunities for slipping, but luckily, very few gymnastic rings)
"Ninja pig and samurai cow are guarding the chicken, onigiri, milk and sweet pototaes, do not attempt to pass or you will regret it! Eat mochi and sardines instead"
My way of ordering food that will not kill me, it has garnered chortles from waiters/chefs, and so far I haven't died, so it's obviously working. I'm going to expand by having a double sided happy face/dead face sign so that when I point at random stuff in the menu with the no crustacean sign, there's an answer "ok/dead" that can also be pointed to - this will be most helpful. Unfortunately, as I experienced tonight, it can also result in safe-but-extremely-weird foods that get brought your way. See photo below with the following caption "what the crap did I just order???"
For all previous dinners, I've gotten along just fine with chopsticks. Suddenly I have tongs and scissors... And chopsticks... anyway, I'm pretty sure I ate pig intestine or uterus or something, the sauce was delicious and - obviously - it didn't kill me.