Street Numbers in Japan
February 11, 2008 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Are street numbers for houses in Japan assigned chronologically (older to newer), or spatially (as in the US)?

In the Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall, he mentions that houses in Japan used to be assigned numbers depending on when the house was constructed, regardless of its location on the block, so that primacy was built into the addressing system (sort of like Metafilter's user id).

Was this ever the case? Is it still the case? And what other cultural patterns exist for designating unique identification for residences?
posted by Jeff Howard to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My brother lives in Japan. As I understand it, the numbers are assigned chronologically and by neighbourhood/region rather than by street (so, if it were Manhattan, you'd be 34545 Midtown, rather than 25 E 42nd St). So the mailing address does not tell you how to get to the physical location. Most of the streets do not have names.
posted by winston at 9:47 AM on February 11, 2008

Chronologically, though I think that is changing.

Wikipedia has a decent article on postal addresses in Japan.
Street names are seldom used in postal addresses (except in Kyoto and some Hokkaidō cities such as Sapporo), and most Japanese streets do not have names. Banchi blocks often have an irregular shape, as banchi numbers were assigned by order of registration in older system, meaning that especially in older areas of the city they will not run in a linear order. It is for this reason when giving directions to a location, most people will offer cross streets, visual landmarks and subway stations such as "at Chūō-dori and Matsuya-dori across the street from Matsuya and Ginza station", for a store in Tokyo. In fact, many businesses have maps on their literature and business cards. In addition, signs attached to utility poles often specify the city district name and block number, and detailed block maps of the immediate area are sometimes posted near bus stops and train station exits.
From the two times I've vacationed to Japan, whenever I couldn't find a place after searching in a guide book in the middle of a street I've had a couple wonderful Japanese men and women come to help. Usually they had no idea where things were either from the address. It seriously became like a big game hunt, often ending up finding the place and seeing that its closed.

It's crazy, man. CRAZY!
posted by tittergrrl at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2008

In Tokyo (with some exceptions), addressing works sort of like the ZIP code system in the USA, as a series of finer-grained divisions: the ward, the neighborhood, the chome (a grouping of about 60 blocks), the block, and then the house number. House numbers are not assigned linearly along a street, but by walking around the block and numbering each house in order as you walk around it.

Numbers can change. When I lived in Tokyo, my address was 1-25-7 Nakano, Nakono-ku. On a recent visit, I went back and looked at my old building. It was now numbered 1-25-8, because new construction between it and 1-25-1 had split an existing lot into two properties. I also lived in a small town in the Japanese Alps for a while, and the system was the same, except there was a parallel system used by the post office where each house in town was basically assigned a serial number.

Nagoya, I think, uses street numbering more like the USA.
posted by adamrice at 10:26 AM on February 11, 2008

Oh yeah: The system is not any more usable to native Japanese people. At boundaries between chomés, you'll see signboards with maps showing how all the blocks are numbered within that chomé—so if you get lost, can read Japanese, and know that you're pretty close to your destination, you navigate to a major intersection and find the chomé map.
posted by adamrice at 10:29 AM on February 11, 2008

I'm from Sapporo and the numbers are more or less assigned according to space (as in block 10, 12th house, which becomes 10 Jou 12 Chome, or more commonly phrased, 10 No 12, then the next house is 10-14, etc.)
Keep in mind that Sapporo was built pretty recently - hokkaido was found toward the end of Edo era - and it was developed somewhat with a plan in mind. Other cities and villages, especially ones in Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, are much older than Sapporo and may not have followed a specific development plan, which could potentially create a new house in the middle of a block, which could throw off a housing number orders. I could see how house numbers are assigned following the order of "when the house was built".

I think the system varies within Japan.

For some odd reason, I never had a difficulty finding places in Japan, and we referred to a lot of landmarks for giving directions (go west from that lion statue in front of asdf shopping mall for about 3 blocks and you will be in front of BBB building, turn right and it is in the 2nd floor of Lions Club apartment, etc.)
Additionally, pretty much all the apartment buildings in Japan has a name assigned to it.
posted by grafholic at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2008

Thanks for the info everyone!
posted by Jeff Howard at 1:24 PM on February 18, 2008

« Older Me Talk Pretty German One Day   |   Is running in hi-fi a load of nonsense? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.