04 August 2005

Japanese postal reforms

First-time visitors to Japan are often surprised when they ask someone for their address so they can visit them, and are either told that they'll be met at the train station, or are asked in turn for a fax number so a map can be sent.

The reason for this is that a mailing address is almost useless in finding the place to which it refers. My old address in Tokyo, for instance, read:
1-9-27 Kami-Osaki
OK, so Tokyo is the city; Shinagawa was an area in the city — I think it was once a separate town which got incorporated into Tokyo; Kami-Osaki is the neighborhood. But then the fun begins. The "1" is a section of Kami-Osaki; said sections are numbered very haphazardly. "9" is the block number, said numbers being assigned even more capriciously than the section numbers. Finally, "27" is the number of the house on the block. House numbers are assigned in the order in which the houses were built.

Notice something missing? One of my phrasebooks had, under "Emergencies", the phrase "Help! I'm at the corner of two nameless streets!" And it's true — only very major streets have a name.

So if all you have is an address, the thing to do is to go to the local police station and examine their map.

The Americans, when they were there after WWII, instituted American-style street names and house numbering, but that was discarded as soon as they left.

The theory has been put forward that all of this is simply a barrier to entry for non-post office delivery services.

And those reforms in the title of this post? Well, Koizumi is trying to get the Japanese Post Office out of the banking business. It's currently the world's largest bank, with $2.9 trillion in deposits. No reform of addresses is contemplated — I'm just using this as an excuse to rant.

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