How To Read A Japanese Address – A Detailed Guide

At the first time you see a Japanese address, you may be shocked as it is as long as an essay and reading it can be a challenge. However, Japanese addresses also have their own format. If you follow this format, reading them will become easy and there will be no difficulty in finding places based on those addresses when you are in Japan. Now, let’s check this blog out to know the format of a Japanese address and find out how to read a Japanese address!

1. The First Thing About Japanese Addresses

The first thing you’d better know before figuring out how to read a Japanese address is that the Japanese address system is based on geographic entities and areas instead of a building’s location on a specific street like in many western countries. In fact, except for Kyoto and Sapporo, you will not see a street name in an address in Japan.

how to read a Japanese address

Unlike many western countries, Japan has an addressing system based on geographic entities and areas

When written in Japanese characters, addresses are written out from the largest geographical entity to the most specific one. It’s a lot like a funnel. Then, the order of writing is reversed when the addresses are written in rōmaji – the roman alphabet.

You know, a Japanese address has different parts that form it. So, now let’s break the address down and explain the different parts.

2. Different Parts Of A Japanese Address

Part 1: Postal Code

At the beginning of any Japanese address, you’ll see a symbol like this 〒 followed by a series of 7 digits (for example: 〒103-0065). The symbol 〒 stands for “postal code”. So, postal codes in Japan are in this format: 〒NNN-NNNN (three digits hyphen four digits).

Postal code in Japan includes 7 digits in the format: 〒NNN-NNNN

Part 2: Prefecture

The next part in the Japanese address format is the prefecture. Japan has 47 prefectures and they are usually called and written 県 (ken). For example, Miyagi prefecture is written 宮城県 and called Miyagi-ken. However, there are a few exceptions:

  • Tokyo is not a prefecture, but a metropolis (都, to). Tokyo metropolis is written 東京都 (Tokyo-to).
  • Osaka and Kyoto are given the special suffix of -Fu (府), which means “urban prefecture”.
  • Hokkaido is a prefecture but has its own suffix meaning circuit (道, dō).

Prefecture is the next part in a Japanese address

Part 3: Municipality (city/ward/county)

Next is the municipality, which can be the city (市, shi), ward (区, ku) or county (郡, gun).

The suffix (市, shi) comes after the name of a city and it also means “city”. It is a designation that is given to a geographic entity that has sufficient population to earn it, for instance, Akita city (秋田市 – Akita shi).

Bigger cities can be divided into smaller sections called wards. There are 23 special wards (特別区) in Tokyo. They are called special wards for administrative purposes, but in common usage we refer to them as wards (区, ku). For example, Shinjuku ward (新宿区, Shinjuku-ku).

Smaller geographical areas, which are less populated than cities, are counties or districts (郡, gun). Many rural areas have addresses that contain -gun in the address.

how to read a Japanese address

Following after the prefecture is the municipality, which can be the city (市, shi), ward (区, ku) or county (郡, gun)

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Part 4: Village/Town

After municipality, many addresses in Japan are divided into smaller geographical elements which are towns (町, machi/chō) and villages (村, mura/son). Nevertheless, not all addresses contain this designation.

Many but not all addresses in Japan contain towns and villages

Part 5: City District

The next part of an address in Japan is the city district (丁目, chōme). Japanese city districts are resulted from the division of Japanese cities and they are often assigned based on the closeness to the city center. In a Japanese address, chōme goes after a number. For example, 3丁目 (san–chōme) means third city district.

In a Japanese address, the city district (chōme) goes after a number

Part 6: City Block

After the city district comes the city block number (番地, banchi). Preceding the banchi is also a number. The city blocks are often irregular in shape and scattered in order. This is because they are numbered after the order they were registered.

Preceding the city district is the city block number

Part 7: House Number

House numbers (号, gō) decide the order of houses and buildings. The order of the numbers depend on the time of building the house, which means that a number doesn’t have to follow the previous one in a linear order. Gō can also be assigned in a clockwise order around the city block.

When writing the three parts (district, block and house number), we usually use the numbers only. We write 3-3-13 instead of 3丁目3番地13号, which means third city district, third block and house number 13.

how to read a Japanese address

House numbers are also included in the Japanese address

Part 8: Building Name And Number

Following after the house number is the name of the house or building.

For apartments, the apartment number goes after the house number or building name. This is an addition to the number combination of city district, city block and house number. For example, we have a number combination like 3丁目3番地13号502 (or 3-3-13-502), we understand that the apartment number here is 502.

The name of the house or building is the last part in a Japanese address

3. Exceptions

There are a few exceptions to the address rules mentioned above. In Kyoto and Sapporo, the way how to read a Japanese address is different from the official national address system. Unlike most Japanese cities, Kyoto and Sapporo have addresses based on their streets being laid out in a grid plan.

how to read a Japanese address

The addressing syste in Kyoto and Sapporo is different from that of the country

Kyoto

In Kyoto, the the official national addressing system is in use with ward (区, ku), district (丁目, chōme), and city block (番地, banchi), but there are numerous small chō divisions. Besides, within a single ward there is even more than one chō with the same name, making the system extremely confusing. Therefore, most residents of Kyoto use an unofficial address system based instead on street names.

For more precision, the chō and city block can follow after the street-based address. In the case that many houses share a given city block, the name (either just family name or full name of resident) must also be specified and displayed in front of the house on a name plate (表札, hyōsatsu).

The system works by naming the intersection of two streets and then indicating if the address is north (上ル agaru, “above”), south (下ル sagaru, “below”), east (東入ル higashi-iru, “enter east”), or west (西入ル nishi-iru, “enter west”) of the intersection. More precisely, the two streets of the intersection are not treated symmetrically. One names the street that the address is on, then gives a nearby cross street, and finally specifies the address relative to the cross street. This means a building can have more than one address depending on which cross street intersection is chosen.

Sapporo

Though Sapporo’s addressing system is official, it differs in structure from regular Japanese addresses. The two intersecting roads, Kita-Ichijo and Soseigawa Dori, divide the city center into quadrants. Then, blocks are named based on their distance from this point, and farther from the city center, multiple blocks are included in each. The east-west distance is indicated by chōme, while the north-south distance is indicated by jō, which has been incorporated into the chō name.

Conclusion

Hoping that this blog has provided you a detailed guide on how to read a Japanese address. From now on, looking at a Japanese map can be a lot easier and finding your way around Japan may no longer a struggle. For more useful tips about life in Japan, keep following Question Japan!

About Akira H

Akira Hiasa has been working in hospitality industry since 2003. In the past, he used to work as a tour guide and now he is running his business of supplying comfortable accommodations in Japan. Thanks to this experience and his passion for writing blog, the articles by him provides awesome tips and things to do when you are traveling in the country of cherry blossoms.