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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.