Can You Tell Me Where You Live?

Every country has its own problem… Among many problems which Japan has, I would pick … the address system.

Thanks for some geniuses’ inventions such as Google map and Navigation System, one of my greatest problems in my life has becoming less annoying, but still, it’s very difficult to find places only with addresses given here in Japan.

In many other countries, the address system is very simple with the name of the street and the house (building) number, right? But, as many of you who have been in Japan or living in Japan may know, our system is different. The streets which have names are only big major streets and most streets exist without names… What a discrimination! lol

Japanese address consists of;

– name of prefecture,
– name of city and/or ward,
– name of town,
– Chome (number)
– Bannchi (number),
– Gou (number),

It is these three kinds of numbers that cause me a headache… I would like to show you how bothersome it is with an example.


This is the address where I had a shop before in Harajuku.


Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae, 4 Chome 32 Banchi 1 Go


Japanese address in the international style which I learned in school goes like this. (though I have no idea why this is the correct order…)

4-32-1, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo


– name of the prefecture = Tokyo,
– name of the city, ward = Shibuya-ku,
– name of the town = Jingumae,
– Chome = 4
– Bannchi = 32
– Gou =1


○The First problem: CHOME (丁目)

The origin of the Kanji 丁 is a nail, which is not what we have at the end of our finger tips and toes, but a thin piece of metal with one pointed end and the other with a flat end.


photo from Internet Home Center, IHC monotaRo

Surprisingly, the pronunciation of 丁 (Cho) derives from the sound when you hit a nail with a hammer! In English, would that be “Bang!”?? If so, there must be a big difference in our acoustic senses… Or, is it because the air is different?? However, for me the sound that a hammer makes would be “Kang”…

Anyway, the original meaning of this Kanji was a boundary point because they used to put a nail to mark a boundary. Later in Meiji period, 丁 became a unit for the length and 1丁 is 109.09 meters. However, 丁 is not used as a unit for the length any more but used as a unit of Tofu. According to the Japan Tofu Association, the size of tofu differs from area to area and there should have been another unit when counting tofu in the past. In the central part of Tokyo, 1丁 of tofu weighs 300 – 350g but in outer parts, weighs 350 – 400g, Okinawa weighs 1kg.


In the past tofu was sold by a guy who cycled around a town tooting.

For whom are interested in Tofu guy’s tooting,


While, 目 (me) is well known as a word for an eye, but in this case, it is used for the ordinal numbers. So 4丁目 literally means 4th 丁.

Still, the problem remains. We have to know the starting point of 丁 and how they are located in order to look for 4th 丁, I mean, in order to arrive at 4th 丁, we will have to know where the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd 丁s are. Disappointingly, I found that there were two ways of putting 丁s in order. One is in a “radial system”, focusing on the Imperial Palace, which means the nearest area to the Imeperial Palace would be 1 丁目 and the farther, the larger the number becomes. The other way is in a “circular system”; 1丁目 is placed in the center of the area.


At this point, I have at least three problems already..
1. Nobody tells me which system is taken in each area.
2. The center of the area can be where the station or town hall is, but if there’s no station or town hall??
3. Do I have to be always conscious in which direction the Imperial Palace is???


Now, let’s take a look at the map of Jingumae in Shibuya-ku.


From this map we can see that the town of Jingumae is taking the second “circular system”. A defect of the “circular” system is 6丁目 is located just beside of 1丁目. If we start from 1 and go around from the starting point, the beginning and the ending would be next to each other.



But where is the starting point, the center of the Jingumae town??

Jingumae is written as 神宮前 in Kanji. 神宮 (jingu) means the famous shrine, Meiji Jingu 明治神宮. 前 (mae) means in front. So, 神宮前 (Jingu-mae) literally means “in front of Meiji Jingu”. So, the satrting point of Jingumae town should be Meiji Jingu.



Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)


That was incorrect…. I noticed that I made a mistake when I found the address of 明治神宮, the Meiji Jingu;

東京都渋谷区代々木神園町 1丁目1番地
Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Yoyogikamizono-cho 1-1


Now, I’ve found another important thing. The starting point of the 丁 is 1丁目1番地.
In fact, ‘Yoyogi Kamizono-cho’ literally means the garden of god, as 神 (kami) means god, and 園 (sono or zono) meaning garden. So, the starting point of the ‘Garden of the God’ would be ‘Meiji Jingu’. That makes sense!!


Then, what about Harajuku Station??


Harajuku Station
Photo from Tokyo Retro Walk


Harajuku Station had been built in 1906 before Meiji Jingu was constructed… and this wooden building is the oldest station in Tokyo built in 1924, the next year of the Great Kanto Earthquake. So, in this area, Harajuku Station is very important from the historical point of view.


The starting point of Jingumae should be Harajuku Station or where else!!



Takeshita Street of Harajuku, Mecca of KAWAII culture


Ladies and gentlemen… I have to tell you a very sad news.

The address of Harajuku Station was;

Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae, 1-18-20


Where on earth is more important place than Harajuku Station in this area??


Here is the map of Jingumae 1-1.



Now, I will show you the building located in the center of the Jungumae town, more important than Harajuku Station!


According to Building Search, the fourth floor of this building is available for rent. About 117 m2 and the monthly rent is 380,000 yen. Who is willing to live in the very center of Jingumae??


○ The second problem, more difficult one: BANCHI (番地)

Let’s take a look at the more precise map of 神宮前4丁目 (Jingumae 4 Chome).

The numbers in smaller size indicate Banchi (番地). Some numbers seem to be put in geographical sequence but… Only some. Moreover, I could not find the specific rules on Banchi and I found that some numbers are put in the temporal order in which they were constructed.


○ The third problem, which seems quite easy if we have solved two difficult problems below: GOU (号)

If you’ve already found the right Banchi 番地, there are only several houses and buildings in the same banch 番地 where Gou 号 is marked quite in order. For such a reason, Gou 号 numbers are not indicated in many maps. In some cases, however, you should have to be turning the corner to find the next Gou 号 number.
This is a system in Tokyo. I would like to remind you once again.

This is a system in Tokyo.
It means other places have other systems and names….

Now I’ve given up to explain what system the other parts of Japan have… and I would like to advise you to refer to Wikipedia which has patience more than me.

Wikipedia, Japanese addressing system


By the way, did you find the place where there used to be my shop on the map??

I often tell my friends who come from overseas that the mystery of Japanese address can only be solved by mailmen or delivery professionals. But I wonder about the map reading skills that the delivery pizza shops have. How precise could they be…? I had no pizza delivered to my house late but on time, even earlier, so far. The quality of letters will not change but that of pizzas will, if a delivery men get lost.

TODAY’S SUMMARY:  When you tell friends where you live and if you want them to come and visit you, tell them that your house is near the xxx. If you want them not to come, on the other hand, just tell them the address. You can even pick any numbers that pop up in your mind. In other words, if your friends tell you only the address, that means you are not welcome. Don’t waste your time searching for the numbers of the address!
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ




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