Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Neighborhood (kinjyo)

So, now that we have seen a map, the house (external) and the excuses for taking so long to get this all started, let's explore the neighborhood (or kinjyo −近所 )

As I mentioned earlier, the area we live in is called Rokko, which is the name of the two local train stations (more on Japanese trains in a future post)
The actual neighborhood is called Yahata-cho (八幡町)

A quick aside on addresses in Japan:

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures (usually suffixed ken −県, but Osaka and Kyoto are both fu −府, and Tokyo is to −都. In the case of Hokkaido, the northernmost island, the do −道is the suffix, thus the whole thing is called the To-do-fu-ken system - are you still with me?). These are further divided into cities (shi −市), or counties (gun −郡)
Most larger cities are further cut into wards (ku −区) and the wards are divided into smaller named areas.
The counties are simply cut into towns (chou −町) and after the town level, you have the aforementioned smaller named areas.

Once you have these smaller named areas (let's call them neighborhoods) you would think that you just name your street and address number, but the Japanese have a quirky (read infuriating) reluctance to name streets (except for truly massive avenues or numbered highways). Instead the neighborhoods are divided into sections (chou-me −丁目) which are divided into numbers (ban −番) and then a third number (gou −号) identifying each house. The trouble comes from the fact that the numbers are rather haphazard. 10 could be next to 3, and 4 could be next to 7, and the last number often seems pulled out of thin air (at one school I work, the school occupies an entire ban, but its third number is 57. (there is no 1-56...just a nice seemingly random 57)

so that wasn't quick at all - my apologies

moving on

In Yahata-cho, and in fact, all over Kobe, and for that matter, all over Japan, space is at a premium. The end result is that buildings are built basically wherever the space can be found. This means that you can have a street that goes School, steelworks, hospital, house, liquor shop, house, massive apartment, tiny house, fish market, rice paddy, porn shop (I exaggerate, but not by much)

here is a nice photo of a nearby street leading to one of the train stations:

Now, don't think I'm judging here - you gotta work with what you got, and on the whole the Japanese show a remarkable ability to get the most out of the little space they have. Remember that Japan is about the size of California, but is almost 90% insanely steep mountains and the population is about 136,000,000 (it's like putting 40% of the US population into 10% of California - and from the 10% you need to also grow most of the food as well as find a place for everyone to live) so space is at an absolute premium. It also means that a large city like Kobe (1.5 million inhabitants) is packed right up against the mountains so that you get scenes like this (looking north from the in-law's house):

This was taken in early March - the snow has long gone.

So as always - Japan is a land of contrasts. Old and new, dazzlingly ingenious and confoundingly backwards, quick to adapt some things and heel-draggingly slow to change in other areas.

The contradictions are easily my favorite part about this place.

More images below:

The local National Rail station (Rokko-michi)

A small street of bars and restaurants a stone's throw from Osaka Station (note the elevated highway looming in the background)

Akashi Castle taken from the platform of Akashi Station (this is where I went to fail my driving test - more on that in a future post)


  1. informative and yet highly confusing...I should never read one of your posts right when I get to work...

  2. Don't worry - it only gets more complicated from here on out! (save it for the evening lest your brain explode)

  3. I would like to climb the mountain in the snow as opposed to dripping t-shirt weather.