Saturday, September 22, 2007


Without internet access at home, just doing basic navigation to places I need to get to, but don't yet know, has risen to a new level of difficulty. For those who do not know, a Japanese address is based on an entirely different system than a western address. Whereas a western city is known by neighborhoods, streets and intersections a Japanese city is divided into large wards (ku, 区), smaller townships (usually machi or chou, 町), numbered sections (chome, 丁目), numbered zones (literally cardinal number, ban, 番) and finally buildings.

In a North American city, a street is a street by virtue of the fact that you can drive a car on it. In a Japanese city, there are many different kinds of streets. Some streets are strictly for walking, some for walking and riding, some for driving and possibly riding, and some freeways that are only for cars. (There are also other venues for walking and riding that are not technically streets at all.) In Osaka, a good half of the streets were never meant for automobiles. The only thing that unifies all of these different transportation spaces is the fact that they are not buildings. (In fact, however, there are some streets, roadways and train tracks on top of, or underneath, buildings.) Only the larger thoroughfares and freeways even have names. Many of the the streets are so small only two or three people could walk abreast.

A Japanese address scopes in from the more general to the more particular, instead of beginning with a specific place and then stating where that is. So, it states the prefecture, the city, the ward, the township, the numbered section and zone and finally the building. The arrangement of the numbered sections and zones is not perfectly predictable, so that even people who live or work in a specific chome will not necessarily know where another block-sized zone is within the same chome. Because of the syntax of a Japanese question, whenever I ask for help with directions at a convenience store or post office, they always know what I want before I even finish the question. They take out a map and study it for a few moments before turning it around showing me the location of the ban or building I'm looking for.

I have a bilingual map of the Kansai region with pretty good coverage of Osaka, but it's not nearly detailed enough to find anything in a reasonable amount of time. Today, I bought a Japanese map with full detail but all in Kanji. Fortunately, the pronunciation of place names is also difficult for Japanese people, so there is furigana above many of the Kanji. I plan to put this map to much use.

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