If you can master the words for Japanese place names, you can begin to demystify your surroundings and get your bearings in Japan's often bewildering urban landscapes.
Hold on to your hats for a quick tour of Japan's physical and human geography.
Japan has 47 prefectures made up of 43 (県 ken), 2 urban prefectures (府 fu), Kyoto and Osaka, one capital Tokyo (都 to) and one "circuit" or "road" (道 do) Hokkaido.
Japan's four main islands are Hokkaido (北海道), Honshu (本州), Shikoku (四国) and Kyushu (九州). shu (州) is state - so Honshu is literally "main state," and Kyushu "nine states." koku (国) is country or land, so in Japan we have chugoku (中国) - which in this case is not the country name China（which has the same kanji characters) but the area of southwestern Japan centered on Hiroshima and Shimane Prefectures and Shikoku "four lands" - the island south of Chugoku.
Other useful geographical terms to know are: island shima or jima (島), mountain yama or san (山), sea umi or kai (海), river kawa (川), cape saki (崎), lake ike (池) and peninsula hanto (半島) lit. 'half island'. Thus we have Hiroshima (広島), Sadoshima, (佐渡島), Higashiyama (東山), Nagasaki (長崎) and Noto Hanto (能登半島).
The cardinal directions are easily learnt and crop up everywhere: North (kita or hoku; 北), South (minami or nan/nam; 南), East (higashi or to; 東) and West (nishi or sei; 西).
Now to Japanese addresses: the address will consist of a 7-digit zip code yuubinbango (郵便番号), followed by the prefecture (though this is usually omitted), city name -shi (市), ward -ku (区) and then your apartment or house name. The administrative term -gun (郡) is often found in the countryside.
Wards are often named for directions, thus nishi-ku (西区), higashi-ku (東区), minami-ku (南区) or kita-ku (北区) - plus chuo-ku (中央区) and naka-ku (中区) (central and middle/inner ward respectively).
Roads are rarely signposted in Japan but the name for road or street is doro 道路 or confusingly dori 通り. Hence Shirakawadori (白川通り) in Kyoto - lit. 'white river street' - but that brings us on to the colors and we'll leave that for another Japanese class.
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