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Weird, or just different?
February 1, 2010 4:29 AM   Subscribe

Weird, or just different?
posted by twoleftfeet (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just different. I did not know about the Japanese naming of blocks rather than streets, which I found interesting, but I can hardly imagine that is the oddest difference between American and Japanese culture.
posted by charles kaapjes at 4:50 AM on February 1, 2010


It depends on where you are standing at the time.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:54 AM on February 1, 2010


As a 16-year resident of Japan, I'm not going to come here and say that the non-naming of streets, and the house-numbering system employed here is weird. But, Derek, my friend, it's fucking inconvenient. And not just for "foreigners". Japanese people have a hell of a time finding addresses. The system is absurd.

And I'm unconvinced about his African music analogy as well. He says Africans "count off" with "two three four one", but, in traditional music at least, 'counting off' doesn't even exist. And in 'the West', counting off is essentially like what he's saying... I mean, musicians usually count "one two three four", but that's often abbreviated to just a "two three four".

Anyway...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Context, or just bare link to video?
posted by orthogonality at 4:57 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sivers has a blog.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:11 AM on February 1, 2010


I was watching this on the bus the other day and it reminded me that even within the States there are odd points of contrast like those: here in DC, each Metro line is identified by a color (and people just learned which stations each line went to), but when I lived in the Bay Area it was accepted that each BART line was identified by its terminus (even though on maps there is a color assigned to each route, but no one ever used them to describe the route), and in NYC there is of course the whole letter/numbering system....
posted by kittyprecious at 5:11 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


One guy talking for 2 minutes about ambiguous stuff on the planet = FPP?
posted by Xurando at 5:17 AM on February 1, 2010


This new thing with TED, where they try to get an deep idea across in two minutes... maybe won't work.

But Hell, I've got two minutes. Give me your deepest idea, give me your elevator pitch, tell me your most profound thoughts. I've got two minutes.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:24 AM on February 1, 2010


Derek Sivers: Weird or just different? Derek Sivers is weird. The Americans are just different to the Japanese, however.
posted by Dysk at 5:27 AM on February 1, 2010


Yeah, Japanese addresses are a pain in the ass to everyone.. Even with a map, it's often hard to tell whether the block (let's say) 12 you're looking at is in the chome (district) you want, or a neighbouring one.

Actually, the way to find an address in Japan is to stop someone and ask. So what their system loses in efficiency it arguably gains in low-level social cohesion.
posted by dickasso at 5:28 AM on February 1, 2010


See, Japanese people do addresses like this...

Also, note to Derek Sivers: numbering a block is not quite the same as naming a block. Each block having its own individual name would be pretty cool, although you'd start having to come up with a lot of pretty unique names.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:32 AM on February 1, 2010


Halloween Jack, Japanese blocks are named in the same way streets in New York are. The fact that it's a number doesn't mean that it isn't a name. It still signifies a particular street/block.
posted by Dysk at 5:35 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is finding addresses something that should be done efficiently?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:36 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always wondered if the Japanese system was worse than the Indian one. Of course, I've only seen the blank look of taxi drivers followed by a shamed one in Japan and Taiwan.
posted by FuManchu at 5:40 AM on February 1, 2010


If I were designing the postal system, we would all just write URLs on our letters, then post the GPS coordinates at that URL. So for example, you would just write:
So Andso
http://example.com/soandso
Then So only needs to update the file at that URL when she moves, and she'll keep getting her mail. Most people would just update their information on the USPS website (like: http://usps.gov/soandso123), which would have the added benefit of giving you an anonymous (to everyone but the postal service) address.

People we could also drop the 'http://' part or perhaps go with another protocol definition (URI scheme name) like "post:" or "mail:"
posted by delmoi at 5:56 AM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why is finding addresses something that should be done efficiently?

Well, as a matter of fact, Obscure Reference, your question is a good one, and I'm inclined to think that the extremely non-intuitive address system in Japanese cities is in fact designed to be inefficient. So that it is difficult to easily and quickly locate anyone or anything in any area with which one is not already very familiar. In similar fashion, many of the conventions of language and verbal communication in Japan seem to obfuscate rather than to clarify. Efficiency and clarity, as these terms are generally understood in the West, is not necessarily a positive or desirable thing for many Japanese, it would seem.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:57 AM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Woah there. It's not so simple as us naming streets and them not. We have the here in rural (red: most) areas of Western Canada, which is similar to the Public Land Survey System in the states. Land AND roads are named, and it's easier to know where someone is by land as the roads can be named but often don't exist as built roads.

If the area is subdivided, it's in Plans and Lots - and the lots are (you guessed it) in order of subdivision. It's not so different to the Japanese system. If I'm working on a rural project, it's way easier for me to be given the township information than a street address.

posted by jimmythefish at 6:05 AM on February 1, 2010


If I'm working on a rural project, it's way easier for me to be given the township information than a street address.

If, however, you're walking around city blocks, or sitting in a taxi with the meter ticking away, it's much easier to be given a street address, as they exist in much of the world, than a randomly numbered house on a numbered block that could be anywhere around that block. Particularly keeping in mind that the blocks can often be rather large, and are usually of irregular shape, and whose adjoining streets are often one way... I mean, really, it's a bitch.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:16 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kind of weak stuff.

I've noticed here in London they do it every which way. There are streets but an address might also be tied to the square that you live around. So, the houses around a square would all have the same street address even though they are on four different streets AND four different blocks.

Likewise, a friend who lives in an English village has the address of [House Name], [Village Name]. Thats it. There are no numbers! Whoa!

Also, I'm not sure why anyone would be asking what street they're on unless they had a map with street names on it, right? Otherwise what do you do with the information?

So, really this 2-minute thing makes very little sense.
posted by vacapinta at 6:17 AM on February 1, 2010


Why is finding addresses something that should be done efficiently?

Emergency response.
posted by DU at 6:19 AM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I mean, really, it's a bitch.

Oh, not disagreeing. I'm sure that sucks - I'm just pointing out that it's not as simple as he made it out to be.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:19 AM on February 1, 2010


The precis on African drumming is, as I understand it, really not correct. What I think he's saying is that African rhythms have a lot of pick-up beats, so that there's a lot of action which resolves on the one. This is true. But counting bars is a Western notational convenience. As I understand it, the players listen for features in each others' patterns and key into those. So the double in the bell pattern known as the short bell is a landmark the high drummer might use to place his tones, etc.
posted by argybarg at 7:22 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is finding addresses something that should be done efficiently?

Emergency response.


Really now. I'd rather not have to go on a Situationist scavenger hunt just to find the doctor's office.
posted by wreckingball at 7:33 AM on February 1, 2010


Likewise, a friend who lives in an English village has the address of [House Name], [Village Name].

I have a friend whose address is just The Cottage, [Village Name].
posted by ninebelow at 7:56 AM on February 1, 2010


Really now. I'd rather not have to go on a Situationist scavenger hunt just to find the doctor's office.

Under the streets, the medics.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd rather not have to go on a Situationist scavenger hunt just to find the doctor's office.

[ Insert your own joke about HMOs or something ]
posted by joe lisboa at 8:08 AM on February 1, 2010


HMOs Ne travaillez jamais
posted by The Whelk at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Japan, they park on the parkway and drive in the driveway.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:18 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, it's short, so it's low-hanging fruit rhetorically and rife with crimes of omission... but I loved it. Let's face it, he has an excellent point. One that amounts to little more than "when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change", but that's a great one in my book and easy to forget.

I happen to put out music through CD Baby, but I'm not going to let that influence my opinion of Sivers or a TED talk of his.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, Iceland is green and Greenland is ice!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Likewise, a friend who lives in an English village has the address of [House Name], [Village Name].

I have a friend whose address is just The Cottage, [Village Name].


My sister's mail address for decades was [her name], Islesboro, Maine. (Ayup, and her ring was one long, one short.) The state tinkered with RRs and HCRs and such occasionally, but they always seemed optional.

That all changed with -- wait for it -- 9-11. Suddenly, all those dirt roads had to be given names and each house had to be assigned a number. Mail not properly addressed will not be delivered.

Seems more efficient for, say, the other 911, but it doesn't alter the chances of John Travolta [the most likely perp] flying a 747 into your house.
posted by Herodios at 8:26 AM on February 1, 2010


So, really this 2-minute thing makes very little sense.

vacapinta, it makes a lot of sense to me. Apparently you're looking for his examples to be some ironclad, unique dichotomy, when what he is talking about is the inherent differences in the very way Americans and Japanese think about their cities.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:27 AM on February 1, 2010


I think someone should do a 2 minute talk on e**i(pi) = -1
posted by storybored at 8:43 AM on February 1, 2010


vacapinta, it makes a lot of sense to me. Apparently you're looking for his examples to be some ironclad, unique dichotomy, when what he is talking about is the inherent differences in the very way Americans and Japanese think about their cities.

It doesn't make sense, and here's why:

He's trying to make the point that our way of looking at things is culturally-based, and we need to be able to look at things differently (presumably) in order to be better designers and engineers. The problem is, he's just trading one culturally-explained system for another. As it turns out, our urban addressing system is more efficient than theirs - a fact he doesn't mention nor even explore.

The whole thing stinks of a lack of rigor. The only reason this addressing system surprises this dude is because he doesn't know his ass from his face and really shouldn't be talking about having to go across the world when all he really has to do is explore the tiniest bit of history from his own backyard. He probably didn't have time because he was watching the new episode of Heroes on his watch in the yoga-chillout papaya-infused break room.

We have specialist professionals for a reason - they are very good at performing their own tasks in an incrementally-based fashion. This paradigm-shift attitude that every Bay Area hipster slacker thinks he's come up with because he designed a new touch interface for a fucking phone drives me batshit insane. It's not a new way of looking at things. It's incremental. That's how you get better. The world is a very complex place. Just because your two-year liberal arts diploma didn't expose you to this doesn't mean you have to tell everyone else with a god-awful powerpoint presentation.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:47 AM on February 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


...when what he is talking about is the inherent differences in the very way Americans and Japanese think about their cities.

Yeah...that seems to me like a huge conclusion to take away from this factoid. My point about London and its squares was that you dont have to go to Japan to find other-ness.

Did you know London had no mayor until as recently as 2000? How's that for wierd and different.

Do you conclude that Brits and Americans think about cities different? Well, they do. Thats the nature of cultures.
posted by vacapinta at 9:12 AM on February 1, 2010


Did you know that New York City is not the capital of New York?
posted by swift at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously to 911, my home address was: Rural Route 1, Box 55 City, State.

Good luck finding that.
posted by wcfields at 9:49 AM on February 1, 2010


Speaking of London

Did you know that the "City of London" refers to only a small area inside London (literally only 1 square mile with 7,900 residents) which holds "City" status. The City of London is where a lot of the banks are located and therefore "The City" has a similar meaning to "Wallstreet" in the UK (from my understanding)

The City of London has actually had a Mayor since 1189. Of course, origionaly "London" only referred to the City of London, so in that sense London would have had a mayor between 1189 and 1889.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 AM on February 1, 2010


I've noticed here in London they do it every which way. There are streets but an address might also be tied to the square that you live around. So, the houses around a square would all have the same street address even though they are on four different streets AND four different blocks.

The couple of streets where I grew up are formed in the pattern of two and a half "squares", but with houses on the squares, and on the streets around the squares. All houses on the largest square have the address "Central Square", all houses running round the south of the square have the address "Woodbine Avenue", all houses running around the north of the square have the address "East Parade". But East Parade carries on to go part way round a half square, all the house on which have the address "West Square". But a small break in East Parade leads to another square to the north, and all the houses on that square, as well as those running round each side, have the address "Hawthorn Avenue".

So, if I looked out my front window on Woodbine Avenue, I would see houses on Central Square, across a road which technically has both names. Yet somebody in Hawthorn Avenue looking out of their back window, would see a house also on Hawthorn Avenue, but on a completely different road. Nobody ever gets confused once they understand it, but it's something far enough out of the "normal" way of naming streets that it has to be explained. It sounds some way towards naming blocks of buildings rather than streets themselves.
posted by Sova at 11:05 AM on February 1, 2010


delmoi: The City of London has actually had a Mayor since 1189.

No kidding. From the Wikipedia page about The Lord Mayor of the City of London, how the Lord Mayor is elected:
The Lord Mayor is elected by Common Hall, all Liverymen of the City's Livery Companies. Common Hall is summoned by the sitting Lord Mayor; it meets at Guildhall on Michaelmas Day (29 September) or on the closest weekday. Voting is by show of hands; if, however, any liveryman so demands, balloting is held a fortnight later.

Since 1385, prior service as Sheriff has been mandatory for election to the Lord Mayoralty. Two Sheriffs are selected annually by Common Hall, which meets on Midsummer's Day for the purpose. By an ordinance of 1435, the Lord Mayor must be chosen from amongst the Aldermen of the City of London. The people of each of the city's 25 wards select one alderman, who formerly held office for life or until resignation. Now each alderman must submit himself for re-election at least once in every six years. An individual elected Lord Mayor need not relinquish membership of the Court of Aldermen.

The Lord Mayor is then sworn in November, on the day before the Lord Mayor's Show (see below). The ceremony is known as the "Silent Ceremony" because, aside from a short declaration by the incoming Lord Mayor, no speeches are made. At Guildhall, the outgoing Lord Mayor transfers the mayoral insignia—the Seal, the Purse, the Sword and the Mace—to the incoming Lord Mayor.
This is what happens when the counterrevolutionaries win.
posted by Kattullus at 12:37 PM on February 1, 2010


So apparently one of the Livery Companies is the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants
posted by delmoi at 3:32 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Likewise, a friend who lives in an English village has the address of [House Name], [Village Name]. Thats it. There are no numbers! Whoa!

Visiting in a small English village years ago, I noted with interest that the [House Name] is often some funny abstract short phrase. Cute.
posted by ovvl at 3:59 PM on February 1, 2010


delmoi: So apparently one of the Livery Companies is the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants

Jebus, delmoi, that sounds like it's out of a Pynchon novel.
posted by Kattullus at 4:28 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you thought the Japanese addressing system in Tokyo was bad, try Kyoto's version:
The system works by naming the intersection of two streets and then indicating if the address is north (上ルagaru), south (下ルsagaru), east (東入ルhigashi-iru) or west (西入ルnishi-iru) of the intersection. What this means is that a building can have more than one address depending on which intersection is chosen.
And yes, it can be a bit confusing find one's way around in Japanese cities that lack a grid system. But when 99% of your roads have no names, I'm not sure if there's really a better way to do it than having numbered blocks and buildings. And with the widespread use of GPS in cars and on phones, and with assistance from the local koban, most people make it to their destination.
posted by armage at 5:25 PM on February 1, 2010


As it turns out, our urban addressing system is more efficient than theirs

Yes, because it allowed us to create urban sprawl cull de sac hells where finding a house all but requires fighting a minotaur en route - take that Japan!

Seriously, there are about a zillion examples of this kind of thing out there. When I was in Austria a few years ago, for example, I noticed about 20 things that I've always just taken for granted. This is what a sink trap is like. This is how a toilet is. This is how a snow shovel is made. This is the shape of a door. Every one of these things was different there - and in some cases, different in an obviously superior way.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:09 PM on February 1, 2010


Charlemagne, you were speaking about superior toilets . . . ?
posted by meadowlark lime at 11:01 PM on February 1, 2010


I remember reading that the address system in Japan costs their economy umpteen millions every year in inefficiencies.

When I visited the place I've never spent so long totally lost in my life. And it was'nt just me. I'd often come out of a station in down town Tokyo to see several businessmen looking puzzled from bits of paper in their hands to the map boards outside trying to work out where they were supposed to going.

The western way of finding your way to somewhere you don't know just does not work. ie follow x road until you get to y street then go along that until you get to house number z. You start to get (and give) instructions like 'ok go down there until you get to the second bank, then turn left at the dry cleaners, then right at the house with three plant pots on the window sill.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:24 AM on February 2, 2010


Why is finding addresses something that should be done efficiently?

To attract tourists.
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 10:22 AM on February 2, 2010


i think we're too used to experiencing places on vehicle scale, where we show up anywhere and it's immediately comprehensible and accessible to us. I don't know if the TED presenter would agree that inefficiency is a trump card. often we call things inefficient and stop thinking about what they mean to lived expereince, especially in terms of community and change across time.

the fact that people offer directions in bundles of unlike objects (flowerstand, tall shiny thing, whatever) might suggest that, in a Japanese perspective, the webs of relations between points like buildings or blocks (as lived in real life) are more important than absolute, undifferentiated, vehicle-friendly pinpointing. and it's not just directions. statements in Japanese are hugely ambiguous when it comes to determining quantities, identities, etc -- the emphasis is all in relations between speakers and listeners, the overall context. there are some dozen terms used when members of the immediate family address one other, for example. what a translator might find to be agonizingly ambiguous might be deeply informative for the people speaking and writing in the first place.

to say that they're wrong because they're inefficient pretty much prevents any further investigation on what it's like to live that system -- and, as Kid Charlemagne pointed out, misses a chance to think about why we feel like urban sprawl is overtaking us with a kind of inhuman force.

(just to channel some of the Bay Area stonerslacker-ness)
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:54 PM on February 2, 2010


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