Derek Sivers

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. The block. 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 un-named spaces in-between streets.

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. Not the block. The street. 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: In most of Japan, streets don’t have names! Blocks have numbers! Streets are just the empty space in-between blocks.

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.

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, look at a map of 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

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

This makes me wonder what other assumptions I’ve been making in my life or business, that could just as easily be the opposite.