I'm finally ready to answer the question "Can you translate Japanese symbols into English words?" and the answer is: No.
I've discovered (the hard way) that there is so much more to translating Japanese than simply looking up symbols on a chart. As well as the basic symbols, kanji, there are sub-elements called radicals (bushu) and that's where it all starts to get complicated.
Here's the symbol for water from this site, along with its radicals (I think)
水 みず water
水 氾 汀 汁 汐 池 汎 江 汲 汗 汚 沌 汰 沁 沐 沓 沃 沢 沙 沖 没 汽 沈 決 沫 況 沮 泳 沼 泌 泡 沸 沿 泰 泊 治 波 河 注 泣 泥 油 法 洲 洩 洛 洪 洒 洞 派 浄 浅 洋 洗 活 海 涎 浩 浚 浜 浴 涙 浪 浦 浸 酒 消 浮 流 涵 渓 淆 涯 淘 淳 渉 淑 涸 淋 渇 済 涼 液 渋 添 淡 淫 混 清 深 湧 渣 渥 游 湮 渾 滋 湾 湖 渦 港 湿 測 湯 温 渡 満 減 滓 漠 溢 溺 滝 源 溝 溜 溶 滅 滞 漢 滑 滸 滌 滾 滴 漉 漬 滲 漂 漆 漸 漕 漏 漫 漁 演 漑 潭 潔 澄 潤 潰 潮 潜 澹 澱 濁 濃 激 潛 濘 濯 濠 濶 濡 濫 瀑 瀧 瀚 瀕 瀝 瀬 灌
Stick it into Google translate and you get:
Hong Nak-dong faction 洒 oil law model Zhou crying Note mud along the river wave,
Osamu Yasushi night bubbling swamp swimming 沮 secretion determined 況 splash
off the coast of Sha Shen 汽 death 沃 swamp sweat pumping dirty shoe 沐 沁 汰 沌
Jiang Pan pond water's edge juice Shiodome Wed 氾 Bay Lake vortex Shigeru
渾 湮 Yu Qing 渥 residue was mixed 淫 pale spring depth hydrogenated liquid astringent
Ryo Sook Wataru 涸 淋 already dry Jun 淘 lifelong alcohol consumption floating 淆
River flow recharge Ura Sina tears immersion bath beach Joon-ho drool Hiroshi
shallow sea wash cleaning activities I dive deep discount lees suspension 澹
tide latent ulcer Jun Kiyoshi Kiyoshi Lake fishing 演 pride irrigation tank
leak recurrence lacquer dipped 漉 droplet drift 滲 滌 滸 strips off flashing
soluble lubricant reservoir groove Han stay Drown source overflowing
waterfall desert dregs full pass down the temperature of the hot water
harbor moisture measurement 瀚 Taki waterfall rapids verge irrigation 瀝 濫 wet moat 濯 濘 Color
Clear as er water, yes?
So, what does this mean?
And what are these?
The solution turned out to be very simple: Ask a Japanese person! I joined the Japanese forum at about.com and within 24 hours got this reply from Kurisuto:
The sign reads 日本一米粒こけし (nippon-ichi kometsubu kokeshi), which literally means "the best rice grain kokeshi in Japan". It isn't clear to me whether it's some kind of brand or something. Kokeshi are armless/legless dolls, and from a quick googling (as well as reading the wiki article); they are usually much bigger in size, and made of wood, not of grains of rice. As a matter of fact, this blog entry says it's an imitation of rice, so I'm gonna guess it's wood too? Worthy of note is that his/her "rice grain" kokeshi have the same sign as yours.
Many thanks, Kurisuto.