Saturday, July 01, 2006

Where do you live?

This is a picture of an "old" Japanese mailbox. However, when I lived in Japan 5 years ago, I saw them all the time. In Japan, all mailboxes are "red," but it looks like orange because the paint has faded. They also used to be round, which isn't so great when you consider the shape of most mail!

I realized today that I hadn't given out my new address in Japan and as I was looking at it, I realized that even with something so small, there are major cultural differences. For example, in Japan, very few streets have names. That's why it is so hard to give and receive directions.

I don't know what people did in the days before cell phones, but in Japan, when you are trying to find someone's house, you go to a landmark and call, go to the next landmark and call, etc. When I get directions from another foreigner, it's pretty easy. All of our landmarks have English names. But, even after I had lived here for 5 years, when a Japanese person tried to give me directions, I had no idea what they were talking about! We didn't have the same landmarks!

For example, all of my foreign friends would tell me to go to the big Coke sign on top of a building downtown, but my Japanese friends would tell me to go to such and such building (which was the building under the Coke sign, but the name of the building was in Japanese and I had never read it or known what it was).

So, here's my address:

Karyn Campbell
Presso Cartier B-101
4-40 Shinkurashiki eki-mae
Kurashiki, Okayama

  1. "Presso Cartier" is the name of my apartment "complex." They always have really beautiful French or English names, but the buildings themselves are sometimes not so beautiful.
  2. "B-101" means building B, number 101
  3. "4-40" is like a street address, but there's no street, so I'm not sure what it tells the postman
  4. "Shinkurashiki" is the name of the Shinkansen (bullet train) station about 5 blocks from me.
  5. "Eki-mae" means "in front of the station", which is not all the specific, considering what's between me and the station!
  6. Kurashiki is the name of the closest town, which is maybe a mile or two from here. I actually live in a town called Tamoshima, but it is not indicated in my address.
  7. Okayama is the prefecture (like a state, about the size of Connecticut)
  8. 710-0252 is the zip code

So when you give an address, you are really giving directions to your house. The mail carriers here have to memorize where everything is since it's not very obvious from the address. However, when they see a foreign name, they know exactly where to go! It helps that foreigners have lived in this apartment for several years.

Anyway, please write to us sometime. It's fun to get real mail from the U.S. And if you want to send an e-mail you can leave a comment on the blog and it will come to me (but it will be seen on the blog, too) or you can write to me at: