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Doraemon unjustly trapped in a claw vending maching
Tokyo (Ueno neighborhood), Japan; Jan 27, 2005

where did i put that building?

It can be difficult to find things in Tokyo. I’m not talking about finding specific items in a store, but rather finding the store itself. To start with, most buildings don’t have addresses (this may seem crazy in a city like Tokyo, but it’s true). Further, many of the streets don’t have names, and when they do have names, there is rarely a sign. So when you ask for directions, people can’t even tell you to go to so-and-so street and turn left (this is, of course, in addition to the fact that very few people speak English, so the language barrier is unusually high). Instead, they just kinda’ have to point and guess at the number of blocks. Eventually, you get to the right vicinity, and then you basically just have to wander around and/or keep asking people until you find somebody who is familiar with the area. And to top it all off, we are sometimes staring directly at the correct location, but not able to read the sign in front. (Even the Japanese think it’s hard to find places Tokyo. It’s not uncommon to see a local walking back and forth, up and down a street a few times trying to find something. And several times when we asked for directions, people would run out in to the street pointing to show us the way.) We began to think… considering the fact that Japan is known for flooding the world over with tourists wouldn’t they make their own city more tourist friendly?

view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices building

At first, this all struck us as rather odd, but now we’ve come to embrace it as not only a part of the sometimes quirky Japanese culture, but also as a mini-adventure every time we set out to find something (we’ve learned to allot 20 to 30 extra minutes for first-time visits). Who knows – maybe we’ll accidentally discover an excellent place to eat lunch along the way?

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Yep, Japan can be very confusing. You may think that if Japan has so many English names, they should speak good English. But, it's totally the opposite! See I went with my mom to Japan and I kept on talking in English saying, "I don't UNDERSTAND!" and they just kept on talking!

--Selma C. (age 10, Sunnyvale, CA, USA); Jun 23, 2005