TOKYO, Japan — In Japan, an icon is worth a thousand addresses.
Invited to a party? Don’t expect to receive an invitation with an address. Instead, residents in this metropolis of 8.7 million give directions based on subway station exits and landmarks.
Google’s map search results — like Japan’s mapping system — use subway stations and simple directives such as “cross the road in 50 meters,” to help locals figure out how to get where. And its maps are populated with popular landmarks.
“It’s way ahead of what we are doing in the United States,” said Ken Tokusei, product management director for Google Japan.
There really aren’t street signs in Tokyo. There are, however, ad signs, such as McDonalds, 50 meters away.
“Even though you’re walking down a street, you have no idea what street you are on in Japan and you probably don’t care,” said Sakura Tominaga, a Google public relations manager in the company’s Tokyo headquarters.
In the United States, people provide directions by giving specific addresses first; Japanese prefer to drill down on a location by providing city, district and block — in that order.
“It turns the world on its head,” said Tokusei, a former Los Altos resident. “Everyone knows this bookstore or this Starbucks. It’s much easier to describe that” than a street address, he added. In Japan, direction givers “go from large to small.”
“We are the weird ones,” Tokusei said of address-crazed Americans. “That’s my claim.”
And unlike in the U.S., Google Japan map services default directions are geared toward Japan’s intricate grid of subway and train lines, not roadways.
“Subway and train routing is a big deal — which train to take, which route to take, which station is the closest,” Tokusei said. “In Japan, a train leaves every two minutes. The optimisation isn’t about when the train leaves, but which one to take. Japanese who grow up here take it for granted this is how addresses work.”