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Doga-TV > Lifestyle > Understanding Japanese maps

Understanding Japanese maps

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Published on 04.27.2016 When in Japan, how do you ask where a certain street is?
The answer is quite easy in fact- there is no name. This might sound bewildering and ludicrous, however, believe it or not, most streets in Japan do not have names. So, whereas in London you could ask for Kings Road and get an answer, in Japan there won’t even be a name to ask for.
So, does this mean you will be perpetually lost? Not quite so.
The reason as to why there are no street names is due to the fact that the Japanese addressing system is much different from what most of us in the West (and many other parts of the world) are used to. This is a system based on numbers that in fact is very precise, making it much easier to find an address on a map. To understand the system, here’s a sample address in Tokyo:

Tokyo, Shinjuku, Okubo 2-5-10

The first thing that you will notice is that unlike the Western addressing system which begins with the smallest entity (your door number) and ends with the biggest entity (the country), the Japanese system works in the opposite direction.
To decipher what the numbers in the address line stand for, first, imagine Tokyo. Then imagine Shinjuku district within Tokyo (there are 23 districts in total). Within this district there are several wards and Okubo is one of them. On the map, there will be various numbers in a sequence on Okubo indicating different areas. The first number in our example address (2), is one of these areas within Okubo. So you will need to trace your finger to a big “2” on the map on Okubo. The second number (5), refers to a part of the first number (it is easy to think of this as a block). So now, trace your finger to “5” within area 2. Within this block there will be many buildings with small numbers printed on them, and thus the last number (10), refers to the number of the building- which is where you need to enter. Summarising it all, the numbers can be simplified as “district number- block number- building number”.
However, a word of caution needs to be said on building numbers. They are not sequential, but are numbered according to when they were built. Given that over time many buildings have been torn down and rebuilt, it has not been possible to keep the numbering sequence. However, this shouldn’t be a problem as with a few minutes of walking you can the building you are looking for.

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