Tokyo Q&A: Why does Tokyo... not have street names?

Finding an address in Tokyo can be confusing, especially with its unique address system and lack of street names. Here's a guide to get you there
Photo: Ryugi/Pixta
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Were U2 singing about Tokyo all along? In this city, only a handful of the main thoroughfares and shopping streets have honorary street names, such as Meiji-dori and Takeshita-dori. Other than that, rather than having street names, we’ve given names to areas and assigned numbers to the districts or sections within them, which are then counted as ‘chome’. For example, Aoyama It-chome is thus Aoyama (District) 1.

So when you’re looking at a map, you first need to find the area and then you can go searching within it. Theoretically it’s a lot faster than trying to figure out at what end of that long street number 98 is.

Let’s take our office address for example: 5-9-9 Hiroo, Shibuya. First, identify the area (first number plus the area name), which in this case is Hiroo 5-chome. Then find the block, which is the second number in the address (9), and then the actual building, the third number (also 9). There may be a building name or number after that as well, if it's a particularly densely-populated area. Happy searching!

Confusingly, the numbers within a block often follow the order in which they were built or the land was registered; so number 26 may just end up next to number 57. Let’s just say that the introduction of Google Maps was a lifesaver for locals and tourists. 

Have more questions about Tokyo's quirks?

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