If you’re planning a trip to Japan or currently studying abroad here, you may have noticed that addresses in Japan can look quite different from what you’re used to. Understanding the structure of Japanese addresses is important for getting around and finding your destination. In this blog post, we’ll break down the components of a Japanese address and explain how to read it step by step.
Composition of Japanese Addresses
The above template is the general form of Japanese address composition.
Like Taiwan, mainland China, and South Korea, Japan’s address is also written from the largest level to the smallest level, instead of writing the room number first and then writing back from the smallest to the largest administrative division such as province and city, as in Europe and the United States. However, unlike these Asian regions that use road names to indicate addresses, road names do not appear in Japanese addresses basically (of course, there are exceptions), and they are coded through the area and geographic location.
Part 1: Postal Code
When it comes to Japanese addresses, the first thing that comes to mind is the postal code. In Japan, the postal code is called “yubin bango” and consists of two parts: the “〒” symbol at the beginning indicates that the following numbers are postal codes, not phone numbers or other identification numbers; and a unique code consisting of seven digits, which is used to distinguish postal areas in Japan.
Regarding the seven-digit postal code, it is divided into three parts. The first three digits represent a primary administrative area, such as a “dofuken” (a large regional unit similar to a prefecture). The following four digits indicate the specific postal area within that “dofuken.” Therefore, the most common way of writing the postal code is to first write the “〒” symbol, followed by the first three digits, a hyphen, and then the last four digits.
Generally, when filling out a Japanese address, such as a shipping address or when sending mail to someone, the postal code should be filled out first.
Part 2: Prefecture(都道府県)
「都道府県 (とどうふけん, To-Dou-Fu-Ken)」 is a first-level administrative division in Japan, similar to the “states” in the United States, “regions” in the United Kingdom and France, and “provinces” in China and Canada. However, due to the complex regional divisions in Japan, there are four ways to write the first-level administrative division when filling out a Japanese address:
- ○○県: The 43 first-level administrative divisions in Japan, excluding Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka, and Kyoto, are written as ○○県. For example, Aomori Prefecture, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kagawa Prefecture, etc.
- Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka/Kyoto Prefecture: These four first-level administrative divisions in Japan are different, and the suffix is not “県” but “都” “道” “府”. Generally, except for Hokkaido, when referring to these areas outside of Japan, the suffix is omitted, such as calling Tokyo “Tokyo,” Osaka Prefecture “Osaka,” and Kyoto Prefecture “Kyoto,” etc. When filling out an address in English, the suffix is also omitted and written directly as Tokyo, etc. However, when filling out an address in Japanese, the suffix must not be omitted.
For example, the address of the Tokyo Tower landmark building in Tokyo is as follows:
Where 105-0011 is the postal code as mentioned above, and Tokyo is the first-level administrative division of the prefecture.
The address of Tokyo Disneyland is as follows:
Similarly, 279-0031 is the postal code, and Chiba Prefecture is the first-level administrative division of the prefecture. Some friends may not know that Tokyo Disneyland is actually in Chiba Prefecture.
Part 3: Shi-Ku-Cho-Son(市区町村, Municipality, City/Ward/Town/Village)
Shi-Ku-Cyou-Son (市区町村) is the third part of an address and a second-level administrative division in Japan. While most countries refer to their second-level administrative divisions as cities, Japan distinguishes them from first-level administrative divisions. Generally, there are several criteria for this distinction, but the first is reaching a certain population size. Therefore, the following descriptions will only use population size as an example:
- City (市): A second-level administrative division with a population of 50,000 or more. Examples include Mitaka City in Tokyo, where the Ghibli Museum is located, Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture, and Sapporo City in Hokkaido.
- Town (町): A second-level administrative division with a population of 3,000 to 15,000 (depending on the prefecture’s requirements). Examples include the well-known towns of Niseko and Kutchan in Hokkaido.
- Village (村): An administrative division whose population does not meet the requirements for a town.
Sometimes, you may also notice a “○○ gun” administrative division between “町” (town) or “村” (village) and the prefecture. The reason “gun” is not listed as a second-level administrative division separately is that in modern Japan, “gun” is only a geographical notation and does not have actual administrative power. It can be thought of as including “町” and “村,” and is equivalent to “市” in level.
- Ward/Special Ward (区/特別区): A district within a second-level administrative division (the third part of an address) that generally only applies to the 23 special wards of Tokyo, also known as special wards, such as Chiyoda Ward, Shinjuku Ward, Nerima Ward, and Chuo Ward. These 23 special wards of Tokyo are on the same level as “市/町/村” in terms of administrative and geographical significance, and even higher than these three levels. Therefore, Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward is on the same level (or even slightly higher) than Mitaka City in Tokyo, for example.
Using Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Disneyland as examples:
Tokyo Disneyland: 〒279-0031 Chiba PrefectureUrayasu City Maihama 1-1
TheMinato Ward andUrayasu City in the above two addresses both refer to second-level administrative division Shi-Ku-Cyou-Son, withMinato Ward being a special ward of Tokyo andUrayasu City being a city-level administrative division.
Part 4: Subdivision
Although the terms “ku” and “cho” are also used in this section, they are completely different from the “ku” and “cho” in Part 3. The “ku” in Part 3 refers to the 23 special wards of Tokyo, which are on par with regular “shi” (cities); whereas the “ku” here is a subdivision of “shi” (city). The “cho” is a level slightly smaller than “ku,” often referring to a certain area of a certain size. “Ji” and “cho” are basically at the same level and also refer to a certain area of a certain size.
Sometimes in Japanese, this level is collectively referred to as “cho,” and it is also called “chocho,” “choku,” or “choiki.” In actual address writing, “cho” is often omitted, and “ku” / “ji” will be retained.
For convenience, we still use real addresses as examples.
Tokyo Tower: 〒105-0011 Tokyo, Minato-ku, Shiba Koen 4-2-8Tokyo Disney Resort: 〒279-0031 Chiba-ken, Urayasu-shi, Maihama 1-1
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse: 〒231-0001 Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama-shi, Naka-ku Shinko 1-1
Here, Shiba Koen and Maihama respectively refer to an area called “Shiba Koen” in Minato-ku, Tokyo, and an area called “Maihama” in Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken.
The famous Yokohama tourist spot, Red Brick Warehouse, is located in Naka-ku (here, it is the name of the ku) in Yokohama-shi and Shinko (here, it is the name of the cho, and the word “cho” is omitted). Since Yokohama-shi’s ku does not belong to the 23 wards of Tokyo, the ku here is also the fourth part of the address.
Now that we know where Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse are located, how do we go about finding these places when we visit them?
Part 5: Chome-Banchi-Number(丁目-番地-号)
Part 5 of the Japanese address system defines a specific location within a very small range. If you are looking for a large building, it is very likely that you do not need the building name and can find it directly based on the last string of information.
This part can be divided into three parts from large to small: “chome” (district), “banchi” (block), and “gou” (house number).
Chome: District Number
Chome is a further division of “machi” (town). A “machi” is subdivided into a varying number of “chome” and must be divided into “chome.” Generally, there are 4 to 5 “chome” in each “machi,” but there are exceptions. For example, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture has 24 “chome.” These “chome” are generally referred to as “○○cho 1-chome,” “○○cho 2-chome,” and so on, based on numbers. According to the “Residential Address Implementation Standard by Block Method” in Japan, the “cho” character is usually omitted, and it becomes “○○-1-chome,” “○○-2-chome,” such as “Roppongi 1-chome,” “Asakusa 3-chome,” etc.
Generally, if you need to write the full word “chome,” the preceding number must be written in kanji numerals, not Arabic numerals. However, even officials now write in Arabic numerals, so the requirement is not that strict.
Banchi: Block Number
Each “chome” is further divided into many “banchi,” which can be roughly understood as “City Blocks” in English. Generally, the division of “banchi” is based on the lines of roads, rivers, railways, or other tracks, whether natural or artificial. The area is about 3,000 to 5,000 square meters, covering about 30 households.
Gou: House Number
The division of “gou” is based on a certain order, with every 10-15 meters divided into the same number, which is basically the house number of each building. However, there are also cases where two very small buildings are adjacent and share the same number.
Abbreviation of Chome, Banchi, and Gou
If every address is written as “○○cho ☆-chome △-banchi X-gou,” it will be too long. Therefore, when writing a Japanese address, if not necessary, chome, banchi, and gou can be abbreviated and linked with “-” to connect numbers.
Tokyo Tower: 〒105-0011 Tokyo, Minato Ward, Shiba Koen 4-2-8Tokyo Disneyland: 〒279-0031 Chiba Prefecture, Urayasu City, Maihama 1-1
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse: 〒231-0001 Yokohama City, Naka Ward, Shinko 1-1
They respectively signify that the Tokyo Tower is located at 4-chome 2nd block No.8 of Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Tokyo Disneyland is located at 1-chome1st block of Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba, and the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse is located at 1-chome1st block of Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa.
Part 6: Apartment number
After writing down all of the above addresses, do not forget to include the name of your apartment building and your room number.
If you use these addresses for shopping but fail to provide the delivery person with the name of your apartment building and room number, they will not be able to deliver your package to you.
In addition, if you are a student, working holiday participant, or have a job in Japan and are a long-term resident, you must register your address at the post office. Otherwise, sometimes packages that could be delivered to your mailbox will not be delivered until the delivery person can confirm that you are home.
Residential Number Plate in Japan
Below are several common residential number plates in Japan that can help you quickly confirm where you are in the city.
（Tokyo）Chiyoda Ku Nagata Cho 1 Chome 1 Banchi
（Tokyo）Kita Ku Akabane 1 Chome 52 Banchi
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