Getting around Japan is always an adventure
May 19, 2007
Q. I always wonder how anyone finds anyplace in Japan. Except for major roads, there never seems to be any street names or house numbers. What’s up with that?
A. It’s tough for an outsider to discern, but there is some method to the madness of Japanese addresses. Emphasis on the “some.”
Take Stars and Stripes’ Tokyo address, for example:
7-23-17 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Let’s start from the end, where you have the equivalent of a ZIP code — seven digits assigned to an area by the national postal service. Then you have the name of the prefecture — in this case, Tokyo. Next comes the name of the city, village or ward — some sort of subdivision within a prefecture. It’s Minato-ku (“ku” meaning “ward”) in this example. Getting even more specific, next comes the name of the neighborhood or zone, sometimes called chome (cho-may): Roppongi.
And then it gets … interesting.
In Japan, each city is divided into geographical sub-areas and blocks. So the three-number set — 7-23-17, in this case — indicates the location is in Roppongi’s seventh sub-area. It’s in the 23rd block of that sub-area, and the building in question is number 17. But unlike most places in the States, building numbers aren’t assigned in sequence. Instead, each building is numbered as it was constructed.
If you’re totally lost, you’re not alone. Even the Japanese have trouble finding stuff. But a push is under way to revise the address system to make building numbering a bit more orderly.
Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at: email@example.com