Identifying Locations in Japan: How Japan doesn’t use Street Names in Addresses

Addresses in the United States and most other countries follow the following syntax: street number, street name. Addresses start with a specific indicator, the street number, and then are followed by a broader indicator, the street name. This may seem like a completely intuitive process to identify locations and most people probably would not think of naming locations in another way; however, Japan names its locations using a completely different method.

Each area within a city is given a “neighborhood” name. Streets then create blocks as numbered above and each block has multiple buildings contained in it.

Rather than streets being identifiers like in the United States, the streets in Japan are used to create block numbers (Japan Info, 2015). These block numbers are then used to segment different areas. Buildings within these areas are then numbered based upon the date that they were built. It is for this reason that most streets do not have names. Buildings are identified through signs showing the neighborhood, block, and then building number. This means that the signs go from broad locations to specific locations–unlike in the US that goes from specific to broad.

The sign above first shows the neighborhood, then the block, and then the building number.

Benefits

Although this system may seem extremely flawed,this type of system is fairly nice in terms of being able to locate something on a map very quickly” (Daven Hiskey, 2012). For example, if two streets were to intersect multiple times, then, with the United States process, this could lead to confusion because it would not be clear which intersection one would be referring to. On the contrary, with the Japanese system, one would just have to identify the block that they are on, which would be must faster to pinpoint by looking at a map.

In the United states, there are many main streets that continue for great distances. Because of this, simply stating which street one is on will not give a precise location. In the Japanese system, however, if one were to state which block number they are on, then this gives a more exact location. Despite this benefit, this also requires users to be very well acquainted with their area in order to know where each block is located. There will be more discussion of this under drawbacks.

This map shows one neighborhood with 9 blocks. Notice how the building numbers do not always appear sequential to one another.

Drawbacks

Because buildings are numbered based upon when they were built, buildings aren’t necessarily numbered in sequential order. For example, building one may be placed right next to 17 and building 2 may be on the opposite side of the block. This is particularly troubling when trying to locate buildings because, without a map, one would have to aimlessly walk around the block until they find the correct building number. In order to fix this issue, the Japanese government would have to rename all buildings so that they match a sequential order.

Japan’s system requires users to be very familiar with their surroundings in order to navigate without the use of maps or GPS. This is because users would need to have a mental picture of where the different blocks and different buildings are with respect to one another. This is in contrast to the United States where one would only need to know the names and routes of general main streets in order to get an idea of where certain places are located.

Final Thoughts

In closing, if one is visiting Japan in the near future, it is imperative that they have a reliable GPS in order to minimize confusion while traveling. Quite frankly, Japan would have to do a complete overhaul of their current system in order to address the human factors related issues. Japan’s system is not just full of inadequacies, though. The current system allows for users with in depth knowledge of the area to more precisely indicate locations.

Works Cited

Info, Japan. “How to Navigate the Nameless Streets of Japan – Japan Info.” Japan Info, 3 Nov. 2015, jpninfo.com/29258.

Whiskey, Daven. “Most Streets in Japan Don’t Have Names.” Today I Found Out, 16 Mar. 2015, www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/04/most-japanese-streets-dont-have-names/.

6 Comments

  1. This is a really interesting neighborhood layout that I never knew about! Thank you for the in-depth thoughts. I’m curious as to how this system came about in Japan, and if it is a recent change to city landscape. What are the choices that went into this planning? Also, it would be interesting to see if this system could work in a city like Boston, where the urban planning is such that . diagonal streets and mixed-use buildings make for chaotic city navigation.

  2. I never knew that this Japanese numbering system existed. I’d be really curious to know what some of the reasons behind it might be. Was there a specific economic or cultural reason for laying out addresses like this? The larger numbering system that you mentioned also seems similar to the zip code system that we follow in the US. I wonder if there is any kind of relation between the two systems.

  3. Great application of human factors to the world. I think it can be difficult for Americans to visit Japan without understanding the mapping system first and downloading an adequate GPS or map.

  4. I am so taken aback by this information. This is news to me. I would like to speak to a resident of Japan who comes to America about what they think about our system compared to their own that they are more accustomed to

  5. en aback by this information. This is news to me. I would like to speak to a resident of Japan who comes to America about what they think about our system compared to th

  6. comes to America about what they think about our system compared to their own that comes to America about what they think about our system compared to their own that

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