Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Articles → Japanese addresses: No street names. Block numbers.

I love learning something that flips my head upside down. So, let’s look at one of the coolest head-flippers I’ve found: Japanese addresses.

Imagine you’re standing in Chicago and a Japanese man asks you, “What’s the name of this block?”

map of Chicago

Thinking you’ve misunderstood the question, you say, “This is Erie Street. We’re between Wabash Ave and Rush Street.”

But the man asks you again, “No. Not the streets. This. (Pointing to the middle question mark on the map, below.) What’s the name of this block?

map of what are blocks?

You say, “Uh. That’s the block between Huron and Erie, between Wabash and Rush.”

(Blocks don’t have names! Streets have names! Blocks are just the chunks of land in-between streets. Duh!)

He leaves disappointed. You shrug and continue watching the gorgeous people of Chicago.

Now imagine you’re standing in Tokyo. You ask someone, “What’s the name of this street?”

map of no names

Thinking she’s misunderstood the question, she says, “This is block 5. That is block 8.”

But you ask again, “Huh? No. This. (Pointing to one of the question marks on the map, below.) What’s the name of this street?

map of what are streets?

She says again, “Uh. This is block 5. That is block 8.” (See the map, below.)

See: in (most of) Japan, streets don’t have names! Blocks have numbers! Streets are just the empty space in-between blocks. Duh!

map of numbered blocks

And the buildings on the block are numbered in order of age. The first building built there is #1. The second is #2, even if it’s on the opposite side. So you end up with house numbers that look like this:

map of numbered houses

Mailing addresses in Japan, after naming the province and city, are a series of three numbers: district number, block number, building number. That’s how the building is found. No street names.

As an example, see this Google map from Tokyo. Notice the blocks have little numbers on them: 29, 39, 38, 37, 40, 41. And the street names really are empty.

map of Tokyo

Cool, huh? You’re impressed. You shrug and continue watching the gorgeous people of Tokyo.

See the Wikipedia page for the Japanese addressing system if you are interested in learning more about that.

But read “Reversible business models or leave a reply, below, if (like me) this makes you ponder what other assumptions you’ve been making in your life or business, that could just as easily be the opposite.