Japanese Addresses and Meanings of Place Names

The Japanese address system is much different from systems found in Western countries. Most small streets are unnamed, and in most cities the addresses are based on named areas which are divided and subdivided into numbered sections.  For example, the address 福岡県福岡市中央区天神1-2-3 (in romanized form, 1-2-3 Tenjin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken) indicates a building in is located in the 3rd go of the 2nd banchi of the 1st chome of the Tenjin area, which in turn is part of Chuo Ward (ku), which is part of Fukuoka City (shi), which is part of Fukuoka Prefecture (ken). Buildings names (most buildings are named), floors and room numbers are often included in addresses. A more detailed overview of the Japanese address system is provide here.

So where do place names such as “Tenjin” in the above example come from? By taking a closer look at these names, we can actually learn a lot about each neighborhood itself. For example, Kego and Sumiyoshi came from names of Shinto shrines in their respective neighborhoods, while “Tenjin” was taken from the name of a deity enshrined at Suikyo Tenmangu Shrine in the current Tenjin area; Nagahama, Momochi-hama and Minato (lit. “port”) came from names of seaside areas and ports; Kiyokawa (Kiyo River) and Nakasu (“riverine island”) came from geographical features; Tojinmachi (lit. “town of Chinese people,” referring to a past Chinese population) and jonai (lit. “inside the castle grounds” in reference to Fukuoka Castle) stem from historical and/or descriptive aspects; and some are simply based on surrounding facilities such as Hakate-ekimae (“in front of Hakata Station”) and Ohori-koen (“Ohori Park”). Not only names of neighborhoods, but names of stations, cities, prefectures and even people provide fascinating glimpses into both the past and the present.

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