How to Navigate the Nameless Streets of Japan

  • HOW TO
  • Navigating the streets of Japan can be tricky. With patience and a little know how you will become a pro in no time. Whether you are in a big city or out in the Inaka here are some clues to help you navigate more effectively.

    Understanding the layout of the city

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    In Japan very few streets have actual names. This can make navigating both interesting and infuriating. When cities were laid out in Japan most didn’t use a grid system so streets can veer off at weird angles split or merge with seemingly little forethought. Couple this with tiny streets and no clear signage and things get tricky.

    All streets are created equal
    Small numbers indicating the blocks

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    The size of roads varies greatly; from barely enough room for one car to multiple lane highways. Sometimes you have to take the eerie looking alley to get to your destination. Streets define blocks similarly to other places in the world. But an important distinction in Japan is that these blocks all have their own names/numbers.

    The address

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    An address will tell you a lot about where you are going but rarely exactly where it is. Japanese addresses tell you the prefecture (county), city, neighborhood, and block number. This is the best way to narrow down your location. After that things get trickier yet again. The address will also tell you either the name of the building or a number. Building addresses aren’t sequential. They are given based on what is built on the block first making them nearly impossible to find if you’re not from the area.

    So what is the solution?

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    Landmarks, spoken or written directions, and patience!
    The best option is to get either written or verbal directions. It’s likely that the person will point you to landmarks in the area and tell you what to look out for.

    In the absence of people or language skills you can use a map or navigation system. Most brochures or pamphlets will have a small simple map included. These are designed to help you once you are in the right neighborhood and often have a skewed scale. Whether using a physical map or an online one look specifically for landmarks or identifying features of buildings, a red sign, or a collection of vending machines for example. This will make it much easier to find your specific building!

    You will need patience, but if you are observant and persistent you can find your location without much problem.

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