How to read Tokyo postal addresses

by Paul Goodchild

Before ever venturing out anywhere in Japan, either for a day-trip, or a party/event, I will nearly always print a map for where I’m going. It’s part of my character and I don’t really know what other way to operate comfortably.

If for example I’m given an address for a venue, I will nearly always look it up and add it to my growing collection of venues in my personal Google map.  But to do that, I need to know how to interpret the address that’s been provided.  Nearly always if the venue has their own website, the excuse for a “map” is nowhere near enough for me to get there reliably.  So how to get from address, to map?

Address breakdown

Let’s take the following address as an example, which is the address to one of my favourite little Japanese restaurants in Tokyo, namely Teyan-tei [てやん亭]:


The first part that you’ll need to learn to recognise for addresses in Tokyo, is the symbol for the Tokyo prefecture:

東京都 (Tokyo-to)

The next part, is the name of the municipality or ward.  Everything following the Tokyo part, up to the part with the 区 (ku) symbol is the name of the particular ward.  In this case,

港区 (Minato-ku)

is the ward.  Tokyo is split up into 23 “special” wards (特別区/Tokubetsuku) aside from the other 26 cities that make up the Tokyo prefecture.  I’m referring in this post to the 23 ward system as I’m not directly familiar with others and I’m likely to get it completely backwards if I try.

Each ward/ku is fairly expansive in itself and they consist of many t0wns and that’s the next part of the address puzzle.  Everything following the 区 symbol and up to the first number that appears, is the name of the town.

西麻布 (Nishi-Azabu)

It being Tokyo, each town is as you might guess fairly large also, and the real complication for addresses enters at this point.  The 3 numbers that follow narrow down the location right to the very building you’re looking for.  Sometimes you’ll only get 2 numbers, but the reason for that will become clear shortly.  So, we’re left with:


Each town within the ward is split-up into several districts called chōme (丁目) .  These are fairly arbitrarily demarcated, but I have found that main roads and thoroughfares are typical borders between these chōme and especially towns themselves.  So this restaurant is in the 2nd chōme of Nishi-Azabu town.

These districts aren’t usually too big and they consist basically of a collection of city blocks (a block being 1 continuous piece of land demarcated by pedestrian pathways or roads).  These city blocks are called banchi (番地) and within a chōme they are numbered.  And that’s what the 20 refers to in this address – block number 20.  The last number is simple – it’s just the building number on that particular block, refered to as gō (号).  And that’s that.  Except of course if the address points to an apartment block meaning you will also require the apartment number, or if it’s a multi-storey building, you’ll perhaps want the floor number.

The format of the address I gave you wasn’t as complicated as it can get however.  Very often in formal circumstances, though not limited to these, the address will be completely in Japanese, or at least more in Japanese than the one I gave.  Taking the address I provided for example, I will write it in slightly increasingly complex Japanese and also provide the equivalent as you would write it in English at the end, which tends to mix it around a bit.  Note that I have provided the Japanese names for the components of the address, so refereing to them should help.  Here it is:




2-20-1 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

I hope that all makes sense and helps a little.  Check out the Links section for map tools which I may explain how to use in a future post.  And for the record, here is a link to the map for this particular place: map.  Take a look around the map, zoom in and out and see if you can see within it what I’ve been describing here.

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