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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Do You Write A Japanese Address?
Using Vertical Envelopes
- Address the letter to the recipient: The address of the recipient goes on the side of the envelope without a flap. At the top of the envelope are boxes where you write the postal code. Beneath the postal code boxes, you should write the mailing address top to bottom and right to left. Remember to organize the address information from largest to smallest. After the address is the name of the recipient.
- Double check the Japanese address: If you don’t want your envelope to be sent to the wrong place, you’d better search for the address online to ensure that you have written everything correctly. If you are worried that you may make a mistake when writing the address, you can cut and paste the address written out in Japanese from an online map.
- Include your return address: Turn your envelope over flap side up. Then, fill in your postal code numbers in the boxes at the bottom of the envelope. Next, write your address in the rightmost box in the same top to bottom, right to left pattern as before. Finally, write your name after the address.
- Add a stamp and send your envelope: After checking everything on the envelope, turn it over to the side with the recipient’s address and put a stamp in the upper left corner.
Using Horizontal Envelopes
- Write the recipient’s address: Write the postal code and the recipient’s address from the largest to the smallest unit of information at about the center on the flapless side of the envelope. If you are sending the letter from overseas, make sure you clearly write “JAPAN” in big letters before the address.
- Fill in your return address information: As you write on a normal envelope, you fill in your return address into the upper left corner of the flapless side. If you’re sending the letter from outside of Japan, clearly indicate your home country in English at the top of your address.
- Flip the envelope to make a horizontal envelope vertical: Turn a horizontal envelope on its side to make it into a vertical one with the recipient’s address going on the flapless side and the return address on the flap side.
2. How Do You Break Down A Japanese Address?
A Japanese address starts with the postal code, followed by the largest geographic element and finishes with the smallest or most specific element, which is the apartment or room number.
3. How Do I Write My Japanese Address On Amazon?
It can be confusing for you to input your address on Japanese shopping websites like Amazon at first, but once you remember the formula, this becomes quite simple. You can often select your prefecture or “ken” from a dropdown menu; however, you need to input the rest of your address manually. You will likely need to know the Japanese characters for the prefecture you are selecting.
Please take a look at the example below and you’ll know how to input your address.
4. What Is A Prefecture In Japan Address?
Japan’s 43 prefectures or “ken”, the Tokyo metropolis, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hokkaido are referred to as 都道府県 (To-Dou-Fu-Ken) in Japanese.
When you look at a fully written out address in Japanese, the first section after the postal code always starts with the name of one of the prefectures, Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto and ends with one of these kanji: 都, 道, 府, 県 (To-Dou-Fu-Ken).
For instance, in this address 〒100-2345東京都港区東麻布1-7-1 東麻布ISビル3F, the prefecture would be 東京都 (Tokyo-to).
Watch this video for a great explanation of the Japanese addresses and how they work.
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!