Geoff and I are headed to Tokyo to see a friend of his get married. As we have have been planning our itinerary I have noticed that the addresses in Tokyo are like nothing I have ever seen before. Looking at a map the first thing that surprised me is that most streets do not have names! At first I thought I was just looking at a poor map but after some research found out that only the very major streets are named and the numbering system defies logic.
So, the church where the wedding is going to be held is at the following address:
4-24-23 Soshigaya, Setagaya-ku
Setagaya-ku is the section of the city, or “ward”, where the church is located. Tokyo is comprised of 23 wards. The ward will give you a general idea of what part of the city you should be looking at. Due to the size of Tokyo these seem more comparable to counties than anything else.
Each ward is divided into districts. In our example we are looking for the church in the Soshigaya district of the Setagaya-ku ward. We have now zero’d in to an area that I see as the equivilent of a very large city.
The number part of the address is divided into 3 parts. The first digit, “4″ in our example, is the Chome or section of the district. Almost like a neighborhood number instead of a neighborhood name.
The next digit, 24 in our example, is the subsection of the Chome and usually identifies a city block.
And the last digit, 23 in our example, is the actual building number within the Chome subsection.
What is so difficult about this address system then? So let’s say you are standing on the corner of Chome 23 and wanting to get to our address on Chome 24, would you go North, South, East, or West? If you answered, “I don’t know”, you will be correct, cause neither would anyone else unless they are familiar with that neighborhood.
Also, the building numbers don’t increment as you move up the street, they skip all over the place because the buildings are numbered sequentially in time rather than in space because the numbering is based on the order in which they were constructed. In other words, building 52 and building 53 might be on opposite sides of a city block if they were built at about the same time, and a building right next to them might be number 20, 32, or whatever. Between the vast amount of destruction from WWII and the aggressive development that Tokyo has experienced, it’s highly unlikely that any adjacent buildings in the city were built consecutively.
Oh, and did I mention that the the first two digits, the Chome and subsection, if you can find them posted on the corner lamppost, are usually written in Kanji? The confusion is not just limited to visitors. That is why maps are frequently printed on advertisements, business cards, and matchbooks.
The advice I read gave two suggestions:
- When in Tokyo wear comfortable walking shoes. You’ll need them.
- When in Tokyo, maps are your friends
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