Finding your way around the streets of Tokyo

It is not difficult to loose yourself in the streets of Japan, especially Tokyo….but finding your way back isn’t difficult either…thanks to the extensive road signs/maps on the streets and the extremely helpful people that I have come across so far.(A couple of my friends have not had very good experiences when asking for directions but I have been lucky …thankfully!!

The house numbering system in Japan is pretty complicated and chaotic, at least for those who are new to the country. Most of the cities are basically divided into numbered zones(sub-area) and and the houses within each zone are labelled in the order which they were constructed and this is especially true of Tokyo. So building no 1 and 2 may be blocks away instead of being adjacent to each other. Even the veteran taxi drivers sometimes have a hard time locating an address. This is one reason why you will see that most of the companies/public institutions/etc usually provide an “access map” dotted with a couple of “landmarks” to make it easier for people to find their way.

I remember getting lost once when I was quite new to the country and wanted to get to the city’s international center. I was already a bit late for an event I was to participate in and after struggling with the map on the roadside for a few minutes, I finally gave in – It was then i saw one gentleman loading bags into his big car….with about 7-8 kids tagging along holding smaller bags. I asked him for the directions and he was like – “you seem to be new here. You mind if I take you to the international center? “.I was kind of hesitant initially….but surprisingly I ended up shaking my head with a “Yes please”. He, along with his kids, got into the car and dropped me off at the center.

When i tell this incident to my Japanese friends they are like “I cannot believe you did that”, “C’mmon, Japan is safe country but you cannot go and sit inside a stranger’s car”. I realized later that I should not have done what I did…but thankfully it ended well. Jokes apart, almost all the Japanese I have met so far have been very courteous when helping me with the directions. (No, I never sat in anybody’s car after that)

In fact, the Japanese are very good at reading and understanding maps, probably because they are taught to read and use maps right from when they are kids in junior school. I have seen very small school kids with these small neighbored maps in their hands wandering around the streets trying to locate some place or the other. I remember asking one of the kids once what he was up to and he told me it was a school assignment. He had been asked to locate the local convenience store and buy a couple of things from there.
So as you see, they start quite early and only get better with age. I have experienced that many times , and I am sure many of you have had similar experiences too.

Note: Never go too close when asking for directions..maintain a healthy distance or they may get scared and completely ignore you. Only when you see they seem comfortable talking to you, should you go near.

Example of numbering system in Japan:




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