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Where There Are No Street Names
May 5, 2012 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Derek Sivers explains the fascinating Japanese addressing system.
posted by Foci for Analysis (95 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reading the Wikipedia article he's simplified in bit. Kyoto uses a different system.

I love driving through American cities where in one direction the streets are numbered, in the other they are lettered. Like the Sunset/Richmond in San Francisco, or Northwest Portland, or Davis, or Galveston. It sure makes life easy.
posted by Nelson at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2012


You know, not growing up in the system it instinctively seems like they'd be better off with street names like the Rest Of Us, but then I remember the first time I stumbled onto this intersection and yeah.
posted by griphus at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a town where i live that has streets named (for example) "1st street", and then there'd be an "A Avenue". It's pretty surreal sometimes - i have a friend who lives on "L St."
posted by dethb0y at 10:48 AM on May 5, 2012


Or in Inwood where there is an http://www.flickr.com/photos/jag9889/2113407093/ of Seaman Ave. and Cumming St., which are just up the block from Dyckman St.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whoops.
Intersection
posted by ReeMonster at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2012


How about driving East and West at the same time on the Interstate?

(not my flickr account, but the best pic I could find.)
posted by Frayed Knot at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


How about driving East and West at the same time on the Interstate?

I don't remember seeing that sign, but if that's where I think it is, you're actually driving south when you pass it.

Perfectly straightforward.
posted by Malor at 11:07 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


(that last, by the way, perhaps needed a sarcasm tag or smiley -- obviously it's not straightforward. :-) )
posted by Malor at 11:08 AM on May 5, 2012


but then I remember the first time I stumbled onto this intersection and yeah.

Stop hanging around outside my house, you creeper.

unless you have cake obvsly
posted by elizardbits at 11:08 AM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Does the government subsidize apartments on rifts in spacetime?
posted by griphus at 11:19 AM on May 5, 2012


(Blocks don't have names! Streets have names! Blocks are just the chunks of land in-between streets. Duh!)

In a lot of US cities, that's not quite true. My city and others that I've been in have block numbers based on distance from the center of the city (or neighborhood) and the street addresses are based on both which block the building is on and how far along the block it is. So if my address is 753 Walnut Street, that means that it's the 53rd lot on the #700 Block of Walnut. Of course the block has a different number if you approach it from the other angle so it's not like Japan's single block number system. But it is pretty common for people to give directions like "It's on the twelve-hundred block of Liberty"
posted by octothorpe at 11:24 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Malor: It's the northern part of The Maze, on the East side of the San Francisco Bay Area.
posted by Frayed Knot at 11:26 AM on May 5, 2012


How about driving East and West at the same time on the Interstate?

There's a place in western Virginia where I-81, I-77, and a couple of other routes all funnel together to go through a mountain pass, and where IIRC you're simultaneously traveling at least three of the cardinal directions at once.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:29 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a lot of US cities, that's not quite true.

That's why I thought it was odd he used Chicago as an example, Chicago is one of those places that uses numbered blocks. If the example Japanese tourist was talking to someone who grew up in Chicago it would have been a very different conversation.
posted by bleep at 11:32 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the northern part of The Maze, on the East side of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Yep, that's where I thought it must be. I think you'd have to be driving south to see that sign.... so you're going south, east, and west simultaneously. :-)
posted by Malor at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2012


From the comments:
Most of Japan does in fact have street names. It's only in the very big cities that you run into this confusing block system.
posted by XMLicious at 12:17 PM on May 5, 2012


Even some cities that don't do things like that, kind of do things like that. In Los Angeles (usually) if it's an Avenue, it's North-South, if it's a Street, it's East-West. And if it's a Boulevard, it can go either way, but it's a wide street, and if it crosses a Freeway, there'll almost always be an on-ramp.

But US Highway 101, leaving Los Angeles, is Westbound, but as it nears the coast, it curves right and becomes Northbound. But when it's parallel to the south-facing beaches in Santa Barbara it's going Westbound but the signs still say Northbound. And near me in San Luis Obispo, where Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) splits off and goes west, it turns east to start up the Cuesta Grade. Which may explain why half of SLO's street grid is built at a 45 degree angle. If you ask directions, don't expect to get North, South, East or West.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:22 PM on May 5, 2012


Another thing - Unicode has these characters in the Japanese range:
  • Postal mark - 〒
  • Postal mark face - 〠
  • Circled postal mark - 〶
which I've always been curious about. Maybe someone in the know could explain how they're used.
posted by XMLicious at 12:22 PM on May 5, 2012


Another thing - Unicode has these characters in the Japanese range:

Wikipedia has a brief explanation.
posted by junco at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love driving through American cities where in one direction the streets are numbered, in the other they are lettered. Like the Sunset/Richmond in San Francisco, or Northwest Portland, or Davis, or Galveston. It sure makes life easy.

San Francisco has got to have one of the worst street layouts for newcomers. It has three separate grids: the numbered streets and named streets (mostly, but not completely) south of Market Street; the named streets north of Market Street; and the numbered avenues west of Arguello Boulevard. To make matters worse, the east-west-running named streets continue into the the avenues north of Golden Gate Park, making it possible to (for example) confuse Geary Blvd & 3rd Ave for Geary Blvd & 3rd St, which doesn't exist but appears to if you glance at a map really quickly. Furthermore, the numbered streets from 1st to 11th run perpendicular to the southwest-to-northeast-running Market Street, and the named streets south of Market run parallel to it until 12th Street, at which point everything bends, while keeping the same names, to run due north-south and east-west. Market Street itself abandons its straight-line course after Castro Street to run up through the hills of Twin Peaks and Diamond Heights (around which everything is twisted and confusing and doesn't obey any sort of grid).

And of course, nobody remembers to say whether they mean a street or an avenue when they say a number, so you pretty much have to either use a map or know all of the street names and which grid they're in when you hear "14th and Irving", "23rd and Fair Oaks", or "30th and Balboa".

The extra fun part of this is that 14th through 18th Streets (running east-west) and Church through Douglass Streets (running north-south) exist on both sides of Market. I live on the north (read: confusing/wrong) side of Market in this area, and the upshot of this is that every other time I get in a cab I have to tell the driver how to find my damn house.

Oh, and all this only covers the northern five miles of the city. South of 30th Street (on the eastern side) or Sloat St (on the western side)? Good freaking luck.

Okay, all of that said, I still love this city, love knowing where things are, and I will happily tell you how to get places if you come here.
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


you know what? the block system is stupid and should feel bad for being stupid. you can't find the building you want without a map, whereas with the street names and ordered building number system you at least know if you're heading in the right direction, if you're on the appropriate side of the block and whether or not you've passed it.
posted by shmegegge at 12:32 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always thought Denver had the best scheme, streets are numbered in ascending order south to north, and in alphabetical order west to east (mostly). Any street address is like an x,y coordinate. The problem is if you don't stick to the scheme rigidly. Also it fails once the city outgrows its original borders.

Anyway, I remember being amused when I bought my first Zaurus, the Japanese model so I could get the dictionary. It had extensive maps of Tokyo and a few other cities, with drawing tools so you could draw maps to your destination and then email it. My understanding is that fax machines became popular in Japan partly because it was so convenient to send people maps this way.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:32 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arlington, Virginia has a pattern to the street names. Going East to West the streets are named Kent, Lynn, Moore, Nash, Oak, Pierce, Queen, Rhodes, Scott, Troy, Uhle, Vetch, Wayne, Adams, Barton, Custis, ... Woodrow, Abermarle, Brandywine, Culpepper...Wyoming, Yucatan. So by looking at the number of syllables and the first letter of the street name, you can make an approximate guess of how far East or West in the county it is. Streets in the other direction are numbered.

It's not entirely consistent, but the basic system works like that.
posted by Xoc at 12:40 PM on May 5, 2012


How about driving East and West at the same time on the Interstate?

We have a section of Interstate near here where you can be traveling north by the compass, but going:
NORTH on I-39
WEST on I-90
EAST on WI-11

Yes, I-90 is nominally an East-West highway with the even number, but in my county it goes almost entirely due North-South, then it got dual designation when I-39 was completed. Then state highway 11 was given a bypass, but they haven't built the east segment, so it's a triple-designation along the Interstate for that segment, but going the "opposite" in end-to-end terms from I-90.

the block system is stupid and should feel bad for being stupid. you can't find the building you want without a map

A society with thousands of years of stability develops navigational aids which are appropriate; a society with hundreds of years of continuous immigration and relocation develops one which is appropriate to itself.
/mapgeek descriptivism
posted by dhartung at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


and the upshot of this is that every other time I get in a cab I have to tell the driver how to find my damn house.

Liar there are no cabs in San Fransisco.
posted by The Whelk at 12:43 PM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


India has no standard address system. Mostly, people indicate their location relative to the closest temple. Google Maps and GPS do not work well.
posted by miyabo at 12:44 PM on May 5, 2012


the buildings on the block are numbered in order of age

You know I've hunted for literally hundreds of addresses in Tokyo and other cities in Japan, and I've never, ever found this to be true. Adjacent buildings always have consecutive numbers (unless you're at lot number one). This seems like one of those stories that keeps getting repeated because someone reads it somewhere (although maybe it was true sixty years ago).
posted by Umami Dearest at 12:45 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


A society with thousands of years of stability

Wasn't the history of Japan continuous pervasive warfare with the entire archipelago united only a few centuries ago?
posted by XMLicious at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


As the friendly young man in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury said, when I asked him for directions, "If you don't know where you're going, then what are you doing here?".
posted by benito.strauss at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, how do you give directions in Japan, if you can't refer to streets? Start between blocks 800 & 801, then go north until you reach block 745, then turn right?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:02 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love the part of Minneapolis South of the river. The streets are numbered, and run east-west. The avenues are also numbered, and run north-south. The zero line for avenues is Nicolette, the zero line for streets is Washington. Blocks are numbered by 100s, which match up with the street names -- so, if you are looking for 2750 24th Ave S, it will be between 27th and 28th on 24th. Simple!

It gets a little more complicated west of Nicolette, where there is a little clot of randomly-named streets, but then you get into the alphabetical named streets, and it is easy again. There are little islands of chaos, usually around parks and a couple of major streets that cut through the city, but pretty much everyone always knows where they are.

Of course, north of the river, you have Southeast being east of North east and both of them being south of North, but there is actually a kind of sense for that.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:06 PM on May 5, 2012


Liar there are no cabs in San Fransisco.

Not true! There are five.
posted by spitefulcrow at 1:07 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, how do you give directions in Japan

In big cities most intersections with traffic lights, and all bridges, have names. So it's a combination of those and landmarks. And, nowadays, the GPS on your phone.
posted by Umami Dearest at 1:09 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the friendly young man in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury said, when I asked him for directions, "If you don't know where you're going, then what are you doing here?".

“Kiss me where it smells”, she said, so I took her to Allston.
posted by spitefulcrow at 1:10 PM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I visited Japan a few years ago and was constantly getting lost without directions that used street names. Hostel websites routinely gave directions like "Turn right after the parking lot and walk one kilometer. At the cork board, turn left and continue walking two more kilometers."

A friend who lived there (and worked as mascot for the Hiroshima Carp) said that pizza delivery required you to provide directions; an address alone was insufficient information.
posted by compartment at 1:47 PM on May 5, 2012


Hickory, North Carolina has the worst street names in the world.

The entire town is divided into quadrants based on Center Street (N-S) and the Norfolk Southern railway (E-W). The streets and avenues are dogmatically numbered and given a quadrant; thus, 1st Ave SE and 1st Ave SW are simply the same road before and after it crosses Center St. Not so bad, right? Well, there are at least seven disjoint streets called 4th Ave SW. An address on 4th Ave SW may be on any of those disjoint streets.

Worse, streets that don't precisely fit into the scheme have additional street types tacked on, so you end up with 1st Ave Ct SW, or 11th St Pl NW.

There is one place where 2nd Ave SW runs into a street called 2nd Ave Pl SW, which then becomes 4th Ave SW. Check it out.

My favorite, however, may be 11th Street Circle Drive.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:53 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


San Francisco has got to have one of the worst street layouts for newcomers.

Boston doesn't have a system. They slapped a coat of asphalt over every footpath and cow trail they could find, named it after a politician, and called it a day.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The wikipedia article makes it sound like Sapporo uses a system similar to that used in Salt Lake City.
posted by trip and a half at 2:03 PM on May 5, 2012


(Oh also, 3rd Street in San Francisco runs parallel to 4th Street until it intersects with 16th Street.)
posted by trip and a half at 2:06 PM on May 5, 2012


you know what? the block system is stupid and should feel bad for being stupid. you can't find the building you want without a map, whereas with the street names and ordered building number system you at least know if you're heading in the right direction, if you're on the appropriate side of the block and whether or not you've passed it.

It's only stupid for a driver or someone from out of the area. The scale of commute-distance traveling is not convenient for noticing individual blocks and local landmarks and is much better suited for a coordinate grid structure.

On the other hand, if you primarily walk to your destination and throughout a local neighborhood, you will come to realize that you hardly ever rely on street names to get to known destinations; you use landmarks, even internally. To a pedestrian in a familiar neighborhood, "It's next to the McDonald's that's near the post office" is a lot easier than "142 Smith St." I'd reckon that most people know exactly where the McDonald's is closest to home but couldn't possibly tell you off-hand the exact street address. (And conversely that if someone announced to them a street address, they wouldn't know whether it was the neighborhood McD's or not.)
posted by xigxag at 2:25 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy: "Boston doesn't have a system. They slapped a coat of asphalt over every footpath and cow trail they could find, named it after a politician, and called it a day."

Completely true. And when they were done, they didn't even bother to put up street signs.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:28 PM on May 5, 2012


Boston does have a system, it's just not officially recognized or even much acknowledged. It's called "squares". These, combined with subway stops, create a dense set of landmarks that people navigate by, kind of like a set of buoys in a harbor. The squares have some pretty interesting shapes, too.

When someone asks me how to find a particular street address, I ignore the address and just ask them the name of the place or if they know what it's near. The street number probably isn't displayed anywhere anyways. Once you've figured out where they want to go, you need to choose which Level of Boston Navigation to use, based on their skill level.

And that's just for walking around. Driving is something else, because even if you know where you want to go, it's not always obvious how to get there.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:29 PM on May 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


London has a bit of everything from Roman roads to isolated chunks on a grid system (the Haringey Ladder), and it has its paradoxes - you go northbound on the Victoria Line to get from Euston to Kings Cross, but southbound on the Northern Line for the same journey - but there's no universal daftness. Well, apart from the South Circular road, which doesn't exist. And Euston Square station, when there's no Euston Square. And the habit of naming every road in a small area after the same thing, just varying the road type - you'll get Charles Road, Charles Avenue, Charles Crescent, Charles Street, Charles Court, all in the same few acres.

But when I came to London, I quickly found two things, the A to Z map and the London Tube map, which between them made navigation really simple even for a yokel like me. When I started to go to a few of the other big cities around the world, I was struck by the lack of generically similar aides - New York, which was the first place I spent any time, didn't even seem to understand the concept of the A to Z.
posted by Devonian at 2:32 PM on May 5, 2012


yeah, I should clarify that I was mostly kidding about the block system being stupid. I think it would be really difficult to find your way around in, but I don't really think it's stupid.
posted by shmegegge at 2:48 PM on May 5, 2012


The south side of Indianapolis has several streets names where the street name ends at a cross street and continues one or more blocks over. The physical street itself continues straight with a different name. There are also many disjoint streets with the same name. The north side is better with mostly numbered major streets that run E-W.

Indianapolis also has a few embedded towns that kept their independence after the city and Marion county merged into a single governmental unit. Each one has its own street naming convention that may or may not make sense with the city as a whole.

I-465 rings the "circle city" and uses N, S, E and W in a way that used to confuse the hell out of me. I-74 follows I-465, I-69 ends at I-465. I-65 and I-70 go inside the circle and run together next to downtown in the aptly named spaghetti bowl before disjoining at the north and south splits. Don't even get me started on US and state highways.

Ask anyone who grew up here and they will swear that Indy is easy to navigate.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:00 PM on May 5, 2012


In Vancouver, BC, you can figure out your cross avenue by subtracting 15 from the first two digits of a street address. So the 1600 block of Burrard is at 1st Avenue. If you are below 1st avenue, you can roughly use this to estimate how many blocks you are from first (.e.g 1400 is -1) or the waterfront (-15).

On the West Side, the tree streets were supposed to be in alphabetical order, from Arbutus to Yew, but no one told the map maker and so you have a mishmash of street names. You can sort of figure out where you are east of the street names, from Alberta through Yukon, though. Otherwise, you need to use a map or your memory.

The Fraser Valley, like some other grid cities, uses numbered street and avenues.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:05 PM on May 5, 2012


Tokyoite here. This explanation is only partially true. BIG streets with a fair amount of traffic have names, and of course major highways are named. It's the smaller streets that are not named, but indeed blocks--called chome (cho-may) are the way to navigate. Even Japanese folks get lost and have to rely on maps, and nowadays, GPS to find an address. Tokyo has some grid-like layout of streets, but many places are organic and unplanned, and streets and chome go every which way. Frankly I'm still confused by it all after almost ten years here.

Whenever a Japanese friend sees my address back home in America, they're shocked. "That's it?? It's so short and simple!"
posted by zardoz at 3:19 PM on May 5, 2012


I've found that in Vancouver, the North/South corridors (Burrard, Granville, Oak, Cambie, Main, Fraser, etc...) are close enough together that people tend to give directions just in relation to these major streets and then narrow it down further from the block number. The non-downtown portion of the city is so consistently laid out that it's nearly impossible to get confused or lost after only a brief orientation. The only real outlier is Kingsway. Damn you Kingsway. I hate you. You're always in my way when I drive.
posted by WaylandSmith at 3:45 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


And people complain about Salt Lake's East/West North/South grid system. I think it's exceptionally usable and easy to get places when you don't know where you're at.
posted by msbutah at 3:52 PM on May 5, 2012


fascinating

Hmmm. When my partner and I were trying to find our accommodation that snowy night in Kyoto where it was pelting down on us and bitterly cold, "fascinating" was not the first adjective that leapt to mind.

Thank god:

1) for those little neighborhood police stations.
2) I really followed through with those Pimsleur Japanese tapes even though it was only a three week trip, and was thus capable of using and understanding simple words such as "there, here, left, right, near, far" and a few other choice phrases.
3) And most importantly, - without which the first two would have been for naught - the absolutely wonderful friendliness of Japanese people, and their willingness to go out of their way to help you. That alone made me realise how much more difficult it would be in Australia, for example, to get directions if you were lost, street numbers be damned.

Sidenote: A lot of people had said to us before we left how racist Japanese people were, and how you could "never be one of them", don't expect much help etc. Well all I can say to that is that - duh, of course I'm not "one of them", and that people were astonishingly friendly, helpful, and polite. Indeed, traveling around Honshu was perhaps one of the most hospitable experiences of my life - even up in Hakuba, which was positively over-run with boorish Australian Bogans giving the rest of us a bad name. Go to Japan, everyone, it's really awesome and people are great!
posted by smoke at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2012


I'll take this over the insane Abu Dhabi addressing system.

But, nothing beats Salt Lake Cities system.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:20 PM on May 5, 2012


Like so much else (mostly unacknowledged), the Japanese imposed this system on Korea as well, during the nearly 40-year occupation of the the country in the early 20th century. It is spectacularly annoying and clumsy, and it took until this year for Korea to finally make an attempt to modernize it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:35 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cool, huh? You're impressed. You shrug and continue watching the gorgeous people of Tokyo.

Did anyone catch this weird line towards the end?
posted by mrzarquon at 5:37 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've worked at a school in Japan, and I've also worked as a pizza delivery driver. Yeah, smaller streets do not have names, so it's almost impossible to find someone's house to do a home visit or deliver a pizza.

So, schools and pizza delivery places alike have huge volumes of city maps, where every lot in town can be identified. This was back in the days before online maps, but schools at any rate buy new map books every year, and you can still buy them in any good-size bookstore.

The interesting thing is that, at least in the small city where I spend the most time, the "cho" or named neighbourhoods are much smaller than neighbourhoods back in Canada, so people are always judging someone by where they live. Sakura-ga-oka in Tsuruga is home to a lot of single parent families living in subsidized housing, Koryo-cho is where the crazy kids are, the Koreans all live in Mishima-cho, etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:39 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never, ever found this to be true. Adjacent buildings always have consecutive numbers

The version of this that I've always been told is that non-adjacent numbers come in because of new construction— the block is initially numbered sequentially, but they don't renumber the whole block if someone divides a lot.

Anyway, as an American visitor to Japan, I found the chome/ban/go addressing system perfectly rational and understandable. Recursive subdivision instead of coordinates, as it were. (I still navigated by major named streets and bridges by habit— well, and train stations and temples, but I was a tourist.)
posted by hattifattener at 5:43 PM on May 5, 2012


> There's a place in western Virginia where I-81, I-77, and a couple of other routes all funnel together to go through a mountain pass, and where IIRC you're simultaneously traveling at least three of the cardinal directions at once.

This bit right here, south of the West Virginia line. I remember driving through it last year and being impressed that I was driving south on I-77, north on I-81, east on route 11 and (I think) south on route 52 simultaneously.
posted by ardgedee at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The streets system is another part of Japan that used to be so difficult for foreigners to adjust to, much like ATMs closing at night, or being closed for the four day period around New Year's. The ATMs are only rarely closed now (to the point that it's incredibly annoying to happen on one that isn't open), and GPS/google maps make the streets incredible simple to navigate.

Without that, though, giving directions in Japan relies on (as in the example above) giving precise directions heavily peppered with landmarks. For example, if you'd like to come over, just remember that you'll see Karaoke Ban Ban on your right, and a big white construction fence on your left. At the Family Veterenarian (cute logo with a banged up cat on crutches), turn left on the small street just past the construction fence. Go straight, and you'll pass the little park with the elephant. Take the first right, and ignore that it looks like the road ends in a cliff. That's no cliff, that's just the absurdly steep hill we live on! We're the first house on the right. Bring beer.

Note, this is a new house, and did not show up on google maps for about two years. Dominos could never, never find our house, leading to cold, nasty pizza. Pizza Hut asked us how to get there, and has never, ever gotten lost. That would be why we don't order from Dominos anymore.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:51 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The article in the FPP is not exactly right. In Tokyo, at least, house numbers used to be based on age, but now they're assigned by walking around the block and numbering each unit on the block sequentially (or at least that's how it worked wherever I noticed it—different parts of Tokyo have slightly different numbering schemes). This can have odd consequences: when I lived in Tokyo, my apartment building's street number was 7. On a trip back to Tokyo years later, I discovered that the house next door had been torn down, and its lot subdivided in two. My old apartment's street number had been changed to 8.

Tokyo's addressing system is insane, and it's a problem for everyone who lives there. This is to be expected in a city whose street plan was designed to confuse invaders. There are maps at street corners that mark the transition between one neighborhood and another, showing the block numbering in that neighborhood.

How do you give directions in Tokyo? Invariably, the directions will be something like this:
1. Take the subway to station X
2. Go out exit Y and turn (left|right)
3. Walk 100 meters, and turn right just past the flower shop.
4. Continue for 50 meters. We're on the left.
posted by adamrice at 6:18 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then there's San Leandro, California.
Some, but not all, of the streets running northeast <> southwest are called "Avenue".
Some, but not all, of the streets running northwest <> southeast are called "Street".
Some, but not all, of the Avenues are numbered.
Some, but not all, of the Streets are numbered, so it is possible to have the intersection of East 21st Street and 21st Avenue.
Some of the Streets are designated by a letter, which leads to the offramp sign on Hwy 880: "A Street Downtown"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:23 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


And now I shall tell you the exciting story about losing my apartment building.

When I first came to Japan, somebody from work met me and walked me to my apartment so I started off knowing exactly where it was. But then I quit that job and moved to Osaka.

Osaka is divided into 24 wards (ku, 区), which are further divided into neighborhoods (cho, 丁) which are divided into numbered blocks, and then there are the buildings, which are usually named as well as numbered. Most buildings have their name written somewhere visible from the street, and usually the corner building on a block will have the cho name and block number posted on it. And then each building usually has a small sign near the door with the building number as well.

When I'm looking for something, these signs are my back up system for if I run out of landmarks.

After the long process of looking at apartments with the real estate people, selecting one, and filling out all the paperwork (sign here, stamp here and here and here, now get somebody else to stamp here and here, now give us lots of money, etc), I got a phone call saying I would be able to pick up my key that evening.

I went into the real estate office and picked up the key to my new place, and as it wasn't dark, I thought I would walk the couple of blocks over to make sure I still knew where it was. I had a good memory of what was around it and I knew the building's name, so even though I wasn't armed with the actual address of the building I thought I'd be ok. So I go and walk over towards the gym, find the park, find the Cosplay ShabuShabu restaurant.... and I can't find my new building anywhere. I'm looking at all the buildings around to find the names, and none of them are Kawabata.

I thought I might be on the wrong street, so I checked all the buildings on the street one down. Nooooo, no Kawabata there either. Nor on one street up (which wasn't even in the right cho, but I thought I'd check anyway). I backtracked and checked all the buildings around the park, even though I didn't remember it being that close when we went to look at the apartment initially. No, not there either. Now I was starting to worry a bit.

As I prepared to cross the street and start looking in the original area again, a postman on his bicycle stopped me and asked what I was looking for. I told him, and he said he'd ride back to the post office (just a block over) and check all their maps of the area. So I waited there on the corner for about 10 minutes. Finally he came back and informed me that the building I am searching for does not exist in this cho. I assured him that it does. He questioned my sanity.

Then he tried a different track - let's try and figure out where the building is by when it was built! I told him it's about 28 years old. Which apparently, in building-years, is old according to Postman-san. And apparently all the old buildings are over in Motomachi (the cho across the big busy street about five minutes away) so he thinks we should head over there and look.... and are you sure it's in Nambanaka 3cho?

Yes, yes I am sure. I have signed so many papers in the last week and they all say Nambanaka 3cho Kawabata Building.

So Postman-san decided to call up somebody else at the post office and have them look at more maps. And a few minutes later he got a call back. SUCCESS!!!!!! The guy at the post office gave us the address and we head back....... right to where I started.

We asked at a small restaurant/cafe on the ground floor of a building about the address we're looking for. And the lady there, very nicely, informs us that we are standing right in front of the building I have been looking for for the last.... hour and a half. And that the building's name was changed ages ago, but everyone "still calls it after Kawabata-san."

So the name that the real estate people gave me. The name on all my paperwork. The name I'm supposed to write on the bank transfer when I pay my rent.

All wrong, according to the post office.

Before he left, Postman-san reminded me to make sure I change my address with the post office. Then I opened up the door to my new apartment building.

And discovered the sign with the block number and building number on it, invisible from the street.
posted by emmling at 6:27 PM on May 5, 2012 [18 favorites]


Nelson: "I love driving through American cities where in one direction the streets are numbered, in the other they are lettered. Like the Sunset/Richmond in San Francisco, or Northwest Portland, or Davis, or Galveston. It sure makes life easy."

Clicked the comments for this. Bless Avenue R 1/2. Even Galveston doesn't get it completely right. Urusuline St used to be Ave N. Nobody but Google Maps calls it Urusuline as its primary name. Same for Bernardo de Galvez Ave and Ave P.
posted by fireoyster at 6:30 PM on May 5, 2012


the block is initially numbered sequentially, but they don't renumber the whole block if someone divides a lot.

In my part of Tokyo at least, they don't renumber anything - all the sublots keep the same street address. For example the building I live in shares its street address with three other buildings, one of which is around the corner, so I always have to specify my building's name when I order my corn and mayonnaise pizza to be delivered. Even then I occasionally get a phone call from a delivery person who's gone to the right address but the wrong building.
posted by Umami Dearest at 7:03 PM on May 5, 2012


Go to Japan, everyone, it's really awesome and people are great!

This is true. What's also true is that you only think this because you couldn't hear what people were saying about you everywhere you went.

The Japanese system, the one I have suffered under for the better part of a decade, can be called "fascinating" only in the same sense as a sixteen-car pileup on the freeway. I was trying to find an okonomiyaki restaurant near Hachiko crossing in Shibuya for a going away party for a friend on Friday, and I wound up having to call the shop owner and ask him for better directions than my phone and its GPS could provide.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:07 PM on May 5, 2012


All I know is that I had a loud argument with a pizza guy because he came from the place to the street and it dead ended before the number of the house.

I went and looked and that's because the street gets split - there's two hills, with a small valley between and a road - and the road continues on the other side of that valley. So he went to one side, and got pissed because he didn't know the other.

This is in Seattle, south end of it (we can see Tukwila from here), and there's a couple of street like that, separated by MLK.
posted by mephron at 7:25 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]




What's also true is that you only think this because you couldn't hear what people were saying about you everywhere you went.

Eh, I heard a lot of that from people before we went too, but even when with people who were fluent but not obviously so, it wasn't borne out. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to paint a whole nation as some kind of charming, affable wonderland, but let me put it this way: The streets of Sydney are far less kind to a tourist than the streets of Tokyo, and significant minority of people here are happy to tell you that they hate you, to your face, especially if you're from a different ethnic background. The odds of getting someone to accompany you to your destination - let alone a policeman! here are about a zillion to one.
posted by smoke at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


oops, Sivers
posted by eye of newt at 7:34 PM on May 5, 2012


Smoke, I'm just pointing out that your sample size is woefully inadequate for any kind of assertion whatsoever. When you say "people are great," that suggests some kind of broad stroke that applies to many, or even the majority. As everyone you know has told you, that is an inaccurate portrayal, and the more perceptive you are (multiplied by how long you've been here), the more likely you are to see Japan for what it is: a country that is completely unexceptional and exactly like every other one on earth.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:48 PM on May 5, 2012


GoingToShopping, having been here twelve years (large enough sample size for you?) I have to disagree. On my freaking second day here, a group of my classmates and I wanted to climb Fuji (it was September 3rd, and we were too dumb to realize that, for the most part, the season was over). First, we couldn't find the Shinjuku bus station to get tickets to Fuji, and a complete stranger helped us. He was a college student, couldn't speak any English, but tried to help. He asked other passersby, he called a friend of his (at six am on a Saturday) who spoke some English, then waited with us until the bus station (which was around the corner) finally opened at 7 or 8 am, then helped us buy tickets and made sure we got on the bus. That entire weekend, from that guy to the couple who shared their oxygen in a can with us, to the oyaji who encouraged me to climb up the last steps to the mountain hut with a glass of warm sake, people were unfailingly kind, and in general, over the last twelve years, that's been the case. Yes, there are some assholes, and in fact there are a lot of assholes. Still, for a tourist, especially one who doesn't know the language, Japan is a lot more welcoming than any other country I've ever been to. Is some of it patronizing ("Of course these foreigners can't speak our language, it's much too complex")? Of course it is. On the other hand, some people, in fact, a lot of people in this country, are actually polite, helpful, and outright kind. In no way is Japan exactly like Indonesia, or China, or Thailand, or America, or Canada. I haven't yet been to Europe, but I'm willing to bet there are some stark differences between, say, Italy and Japan.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:24 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


a country that is completely unexceptional and exactly like every other one on earth.

If you think any country is 'exactly like every other one on earth', you have either never been anywhere, are wearing some kind of deliberate blinders to the fascinating variety of life as it is lived around the world, or have some degree of brain damage. I have no great attachment to Japan -- I've only been there a handful of times -- but one thing it isn't is exactly like anywhere else. Any more than Moscow is like Rio or Seoul is like Toronto, or. It is exceptional in precisely the same way every other place is exceptional.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:57 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, I am glad to live in a city with a quadrant grid system. Even though they did mess it up in the suburbs by calling EVERY street some variation on the community name. You can get directions that say take oakwood drive to oakland place hang a right on oakcliffe drive and another right on oakland road.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 9:06 PM on May 5, 2012


Sorry about that brain damage crack above. I don't actually expect that you have brain damage; I just find the idea (which is perhaps not the idea you meant to suggest) that any place on earth is like any other utterly bewildering.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:30 PM on May 5, 2012


Old Western cities can be just as confusing as this article suggests that Tokyo might be.

In Boston's South End, there's a street sign that strongly suggests that you're at the corner of Tremont and Tremont. For the first two hundred years that the street existed and the adjacent land wasn't filled in, it was perfectly obvious that Tremont made a 90-degree turn-- what were you going to do, keep going straight and wade into the marsh?

London is even more ridiculous to the modern person-- you keep following the road and the name changes. "Charing Cross? What the hell? I was on Tottenham Court and I'm fairly certain that I never turned!" On smaller roads, it varies block by block: "I was following Coventry, and then I saw something about Leicester. I know I was going straight but then the sign said I was on Cranbourne Street. Now I'm on Long Acre! Please kill me!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:40 PM on May 5, 2012


>Go to Japan, everyone, it's really awesome and people are great!

This is true. What's also true is that you only think this because you couldn't hear what people were saying about you everywhere you went.


LOL it's true. But then, I've said some pretty nasty things about stupid gaijin too.

I have no great attachment to Japan -- I've only been there a handful of times -- but one thing it isn't is exactly like anywhere else

Oh bull. Tokyo is just like Los Angeles. Some of Southern Hokkaido is just like Iowa.

I should tell you a story. When I was in Hokkaido at language school, we had a weekend trip to an onsen to unwind after midterms. Our professor gave a few of us a ride back in his car (much more comfortable than the bus) and said he had a surprise for us. He stopped in at a friend's dairy farm. The farmer took us on a tour and was showing us his prized Guernsey cows when my professor told him I was from Iowa. He said, "oh you're from Iowa? I got my degree in Agribusiness from Iowa State! These cows are imported from Iowa!" I thought my professor was kind of pulling a dirty trick on me. I was trying to get away from Iowa, not go halfway around the world and end up right back there.

I will never forget what happened when we got back to town. I was rummaging around the tiny trunk to pull out our luggage. I was being careful because the farmer had given us all these little glass pint bottles of milk, which everyone had stashed around the trunk with their luggage. I pulled out a bottle and set it aside on the curb so I wouldn't knock it over and break it. And then another. And another. I had a line of 5 or 6 little bottles of milk sitting on the curb. As the others saw me doing this, a couple of them said I could have their milk. No, you take it, I hate milk. No, you take it, I don't like milk either. Well I like milk but I don't want it, what am I supposed to do with all this milk? So we're all arguing with each other to push the milk on someone else, when we hear people laughing. We had attracted a crowd of locals and they were just cracking up at the crazy gaijin and their little bottles of milk. I asked them if they wanted the milk, fresh from the farm. Some of them ran up and grabbed the bottles and they all walked away laughing uproariously. Problem solved.

The one thing about gaijin life in Japan is that you never know when you will become a public spectacle. It always happens. Or maybe that's just me, it happens to me often enough in the US too.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:17 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of New England is terrible... I used to live in Lowell, where there was a seven way intersection. How do you tell someone how to navigate that? Take the secondmost left? The right to the left? Go straight only turn a little?

Then there is Newport. Upper Thames and Lower Thames, pronounced TH-AIM-EZ, no less, and side-streets that could not accomoate one car, never mind two in both directions, right off of wide boulevards that were amazingly one-way-only.

The only way to find your way around is to drive aimlessly for a few afternoons.... or hire a cab.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:17 PM on May 5, 2012


... a seven way intersection. How do you tell someone how to navigate that?

Going in a circle they are
  • hard right
  • turn right
  • bear right
  • go straight
  • bear left
  • turn left
  • hard left
There's actually enough terms there to deal with an eight-way intersection. You can also say things like "turn left before the Papa Gino's" or "turn left after you pass the Dunkin Donuts".
posted by benito.strauss at 10:33 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only time I ever miss Phoenix is when I'm trying to find a new place in anywhere I've lived since I left Phoenix.

It's a shitty city, but planned so that you have to be a moron not to know PRECISELY where a location is, given the address.
posted by padraigin at 10:34 PM on May 5, 2012


I think sometimes people who've been living in Japan for a while can forget how amazing it can be for tourists. The food is great, there are so many interesting things to see, and the people you meet are really friendly and helpful. Tourists don't have to deal with the gas company, constant earthquakes, or co-workers who leave kanji-filled documents on your desk and then get sniffy when it takes you a while to read them. I've lived in London and in Los Angeles, and living in Japan is not like living in those places except in a very general way. I love Los Angeles, but I always hesitate to recommend it as a vacation spot because it requires a car, and London can be very hostile and grim, but Japan is great! It's really awesome and the people are great and if you visit Aomori at the right time of year, old people will give you apples. Free apples!
posted by betweenthebars at 11:47 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh bull. Tokyo is just like Los Angeles. Some of Southern Hokkaido is just like Iowa.

Like hell it is.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:33 AM on May 6, 2012


Yes, this is a fun system and actually leads to very efficient use of space (not all building frontages need to be in a line). But it also leads to sitting in a taxi, with the meter running, waiting for in excess of 5 minutes while the driver frantically runs around the neighbourhood, in the dark, in the rain, trying to figure out which building he's supposed to be taking you to.

I think Japanese people, or at the very least Japanese taxi drivers, would greatly prefer "ordinary" street numbering.
posted by dickasso at 1:13 AM on May 6, 2012


(And now I've read the rest of the comments, please note that Japan is the only country I personally have been to in which a taxi driver would leave you alone in his taxi while he ran around the neighbourhood in the rain trying to figure out where your destination is. Anecdotal evidence, not enough data, whatever - in my experience most Japanese people are super super helpful. If you are in Japan and find that a lot of people seem to have a problem with you, the likelihood is that you're doing something really wrong.)
posted by dickasso at 1:48 AM on May 6, 2012


Like hell it is.

Oh sure it is. Use your imagination a little, there are plenty of similarities.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:00 AM on May 6, 2012


Geographically? I mean, of course, there's that, but it's not really meaningful, is it? Every place at a similar latitude, no matter where you go around the planet, has some similarities.

Otherwise, and particularly in the case of comparing cities, I don't really know what you're getting at.

Vancouver and Seattle, someone could argue that they are 'just like' each other (and I'd argue they very much aren't), I can see that -- they share climate and geography at least. And someone might argue that the similarities between American and Canadian culture mean that they have the same 'feel' (again, something I'd argue against). But Tokyo and LA? No idea what you mean, seriously.

And forgive me, but 'there are plenty of similarities between X and Y' isn't really saying the same thing as 'X is just like Y'. Without examples to illustrate what you're talking about and why you think those things are significant, there's not a lot to discuss.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:44 AM on May 6, 2012


Betweenthebars, I agree completely about forgetting how fascinating this place can be. When my friends came to visit for my wedding, their constant slack-jawed state of amazement helped me remember when I used to feel the same way, and really helped me to appreciate this place a little more. I've been pretty grumpy recently about Japan. Guess I just need my friends to come back over so I can play tour guide again.

(not that my friends back home read metafilter, but HINT HINT)
posted by Ghidorah at 6:15 AM on May 6, 2012


I was always lost in Tokyo. Nagoya, not so much: since the Allies bombed the shit out of it much of it is laid out in a familiar grid pattern and many of the streets even have names!

"Doko wa chikatetsu? (Bad Japanese for "Where is the subway station") was the most useful phrase for me in Tokyo.

They do give directions using landmarks. That's when you notice that the all important preposition can really make a difference. Plus, you can follow all the landmarks to a T and then discover you got out on the wrong side of the subway station so it was the wrong big shiny building and the wrong park and the wrong barber pole you were counting on...

Still, I've been lost in countless cities and countries and usually enjoyed the trip. I know where I am now, anyway - in a non-metaphysical sense, anyway.
posted by kozad at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2012


Clicked the comments for this. Bless Avenue R 1/2. Even Galveston doesn't get it completely right. Urusuline St used to be Ave N. Nobody but Google Maps calls it Urusuline as its primary name. Same for Bernardo de Galvez Ave and Ave P.

Wait, R 1/2? You didn't mention P 1/2? People in my family have been laughing at Avenue P 1/2 for nearly 90 years. It's my favorite street name in all of Galveston.

And those are rank lies about Ursuline. My godparents lived on Ave. N for 30 years and we all called it Ursuline. I know I heard it referred to both ways at various times, but Ursuline was the primary in my experience.
posted by katemonster at 10:20 AM on May 6, 2012


Yes, but this is the future. You follow the line through the intersection. Google's street view was indispensable when I was trying to navigate my way around Boston.
posted by fragmede at 10:28 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And discovered the sign with the block number and building number on it, invisible from the street.

:Cue opening theme music, and montage sequence of Postman-san, the restaurant owner, the real estate agent, the transfer student, emmling walking through the streets of the neighborhood with a wistful smile, pan towards the sky:
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2012


Otherwise, and particularly in the case of comparing cities, I don't really know what you're getting at.

I just find the general organization, function, and layout of LA and Tokyo so similar that I mentally overlay them. I admit that this could be just my personal idiosyncrasy since I lived in downtown right next to Little Tokyo, but I don't think that's it. I suppose you have to be able to make some leaps of imagination to consider the function of, say, the LA freeways to be analogous to the train system in Tokyo. I generally find the mix of density from concentrated urban areas amidst huge areas of less development, reminds me a lot of LA. I instantly recognized it when I first arrived. I can even give you a few mental pairings of places that remind me of each other, like Yokohama/Long Beach, Ginza/Downtown Shinjuku/Westwood, Saitama/Simi Valley, etc. My first arrival in Japan, on taking the bus from Narita, and coming into view of the city skyline was, "damn, this is just like taking the 405 from LAX."

LA and Tokyo share one striking similarity: almost completely unplanned, unregulated growth overlaid on a grid of a poorly designed historical layout. Sure, LA never had disasters like being burned down in a war, and sure the cultural system is obviously different. But when I look at the larger picture, viewing them both as an archetypical Megalopolis, as a system, I find them to be more similar than different.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:34 PM on May 6, 2012


Well, fair enough. I'm not familiar enough with LA or Tokyo to be able to judge if they have a similar physical 'feel' and, I don't know, historical-geographical pattern to them. I'd still argue that it's not a generalizable thing, though, even if cities are, in the end, all cities, and sometimes share a lot in that way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:14 PM on May 6, 2012


Well to get this back sort of on track, I'm going to present you a link to one of my favorite maps, Edo c. 1848 (Tokyo). Now compare that to this map of Los Angeles in 1873.

Los Angeles is obviously less well developed, since it was not a national capitol for hundreds of years. But you can see the early division based around Spanish ranchos. One particularly interesting item is the red square in the right center, turned at a slight angle. That is now downtown, and the streets today are still diagonal to the entire city grid. Apparently this is a Spanish custom, they laid out cities with the streets aligned on a diagonal to true north, this supposedly gave more sunlight to building windows than if they were aligned north-south. This causes all sorts of grief where the antiquated diagonal streets meet the N/S grid of streets that developed around it.

Now the Edo map is far more interesting, since it is more packed with information. A lot of Edo developed around the rivers, which you don't see in LA. If you look closely at an enlargement, each property is marked, many larger ones are imprinted with circular "mon," a family crest, which mostly indicate land grants from the Emperor. This is pretty much exactly what a rancho was, a deed from the Spanish king.

A lot of structures I see here are fairly similar. Both cities are on a large basin with some significant hills. Now Tokyo is just one part of a large bay, but I think they're laid out fairly similarly. The topic of this FPP is the address system, and the antique Edo map is an artifact of that, the districts are basically evolved from this map. I even bought a large handkerchief of this map when I was in Tokyo, they're sold fairly widely, you can use it to see the old districts and compare it to a railway or other map (which are also sold on silk handkerchiefs). Or at least, that's what people used to do before GPS cell phones. Anyway, the Western system is more based on a grid, so addresses are laid out according to cartesian coordinates (more or less). The Japanese system is based more on historic use, so you get systems like the buildings are numbered according to their age.

Now don't get me started on the actual names of places in Japan. One of my professors wrote a book about that subject, and his lectures (which can induce near-fatal boredom) seem to have stuck with me.

Anyway, comparing Eastern and Western maps is one of my modest interests, sorry to bore you with it. Just one of my things.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:15 PM on May 6, 2012


Tokyo has some grid-like layout of streets, but many places are organic and unplanned, and streets and chome go every which way.

Nagoya, not so much: since the Allies bombed the shit out of it much of it is laid out in a familiar grid pattern and many of the streets even have names!


I recall having a Japanese person explain to me that the reason streets in Japan are not straight or grid-like was due back to medieval days, where towns built around castles were intentionally made maze-like, to thwart enemy soldiers and armies by getting them lost as they went through the town. The person beamed as he was explaining it, as if to say "don't you think that was a great idea?"

But the thought crossed my mind was "well, now that modern warfare has made such defense measures obsolete, and Tokyo has been bombed to hell in WWII, why not take the opportunity to make locations possible to be found by people other than local long-term residents?"
posted by Metro Gnome at 7:30 PM on May 6, 2012


Sure you could make Tokyo into a grid, but then it wouldn't be Japan anymore. Seriously. Japan IS the map of Japan. I could easily point you to (but mercifully, I won't) the National Diet Library which is full of detailed maps going back hundreds of years, they are considered National Treasures. In some ways, the present of Japan is always a dialogue with the past. It happens every day. I remember when I was going through Chuo-ku and saw a sign and thought, hey, this is Nihonbashi, one of the 53 stops on the Tokaido Road and the terminus of the Nakasendo. This location is well known from famous depictions by artists like Hiroshige. Then I realized, I don't even know how I ever learned that.

It's like reading kanji, you can read some symbol and we know it means "dog" or something, but it also is a pictogram that you can trace back at least a thousand years, just by looking at the way the symbol is written, and that symbol carries a dense matrix of cultural connotations that go back just as far. There have been serious proposals to replace kanji with something more logical and simpler like the roman alphabet. These proposals never got very far.

Anyway, the last serious proposal like yours that I heard of, was Le Corbusier who wanted to raze Paris and rebuild the crooked streets along a grid. These ideas never work..
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2012


It's a terrible system, and I'm so glad Seoul is finally moving away from it.

Literally every business card here has a fucking map on the back. They have to.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:21 AM on May 7, 2012


Boston doesn't have a system. They slapped a coat of asphalt over every footpath and cow trail they could find, named it after a politician, and called it a day.

Is there where I can tell my Boston-street-names story? This is where I'm going to tell my story.

They paved over the cowpaths, named them after crusty old white dudes, and then called it a day. Then, two hundred years later, those old blue-collar neighborhoods south of the city proper turned into vaguely-dangerous slums where gang violence moved in. Unlike west-coast gangs, the ones around here mostly just went with geographical themes, naming themselves after the streets where most of their members took up residence.

My wife and I discovered this fact two years ago, when a long-settled feud violently re-erupted a few blocks northwest of us. Two local gangs gave up on their rivalry a decade earlier, after a church-brokered truce led to a cease-fire and led most of them to disperse into other parts of the city. However, three shootings in quick succession on the site of the old gang headquarters prompted the police to warn local residents that the old feud had been rekindled, and so the locals felt a bit worried for a week or so, before the leaders were rounded up. The two gangs? Boylston and Mozart. Much pearl-clutching went on at the Globe, as journalists tried to spread the warning of these two menacing-sounding groups of ruffians, and the city quietly wondered who would prevail.

Sadly, the street closest to my house, Boylston Street, did not fare well in the two-week-long outbreak of hostilities--all the fighting took place on their home turf, and only they suffered casualties. I, in turn, took to referring to the gang, and thus the street from which they hailed, as Salieri. No net loss of old-crusty-white-guy-ness, but much more expressive.
posted by Mayor West at 8:46 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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