Japanese addresses are described by a hierarchy of areas, rather than numbers running consecutively along named roads. A typical address starts with the largest administrative district, the ken (prefecture), accompanied by a seven-digit postcode for example, Nagasaki-ken 850-0072. The four exceptions are Tokyo-to (metropolis), Kyoto-fu and Ōsaka-fu (urban prefectures), and Hokkaidō – all independent administrative areas at the same level as the ken, also followed by a seven-digit code. Next comes the shi (city) or, in the country, the gun (county) or mura (village). The largest cities are then subdivided into ku (wards), followed by chō (districts), then chōme (local neighbourhoods), blocks and, finally, individual buildings.

If a building has a name and/or holds several different businesses or homes on different floors you’ll find the floor number generally listed according to the US fashion with the first floor (1F) being the ground floor and the second floor (2F) being the first floor above ground. B1F, B2F and so on, stands for the floors below ground level, Some addresses, where the block is entirely taken up by one building, will only have two numerals. If an address has four numerals, the first one is for a separate business within a certain part of the building.

Japanese addresses are written in reverse order from the Western system. However, when written in English, they usually follow the Western order; this is the system we adopt in the guide. For example, the address 2F Maru Bldg, 2-12-7 Kitano-chō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi identifies the second floor of the Maru Building which is building number 7, somewhere on block 12 of number 2 chōme in Kitano district, in Chūō ward of Kōbe city. Buildings may bear a small metal tag with their number (eg 2-12-7, or just 12-7), while lampposts often have a bigger plaque with the district name in kanji and the block reference (eg 2-12). Note that the same address can also be written 12-7 Kitano-chō 2-chōme, Chūō-ku.

Though the system’s not too difficult in theory, actually locating an address on the ground can be frustrating. The consolation is that even Japanese people find it tough. The best strategy is to have the address written down, preferably in Japanese, and then get to the nearest train or bus station. Once in the neighbourhood, start asking; local police boxes (kōban) are a good bet and have detailed maps of their own areas. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to phone – often someone will come to meet you.

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