Yes, you read that right. Other than major roads (which usually have numbers) and interstates (which get names), the vast majority of roads are NOT labeled in Japan. “Well, then how does anyone find anything?” you ask? An excellent question with a few different answers:
- GPS. I have seen very few cars in Japan without a GPS system built into the car (mine is one of them haha). They are very specific as well; when it tells you to turn, it will zoom in on the map and show you exactly where you need to go. I’m used to relying on Google Maps, so I’m always super impressed by this haha.
- Ask someone. This was my preferred method when I studied abroad and didn’t have a data plan, so I couldn’t use Google. People at konbini (convenience stores) will most likely know the tourist places you’re trying to get to, so asking them is a good option. Sometimes they’ll even take receipts, tape them together, and draw you a map (complete with LANDMARKS since the streets aren’t labeled). Totally not speaking from experience there.
Compared to addresses in the US, which start small and get bigger (house, street, city, state), Japan’s works the opposite; start big and get small (in a simple example: prefecture, district, town, ward, house number. It gets more complicated in places like Tokyo). So a Japanese address basically tells you the general area the house/business is in, then you have to use the house number to figure it out from there (unless you have a GPS of course). This leads to a lot of pacing, re-tracing steps, and headaches. Even WITH a GPS it can still be confusing, especially in huge cities like Tokyo. Skyscrapers are not always clearly labeled with their addresses, so when I was trying to find Sakura Mobile’s office in Tokyo back in July with the help of a friend with a GPS, we must have passed it three times before giving up and discovering it the next day (we both hit ourselves when we realized it had been there the whole time).