Tokyo is located on the mideastern part of Honshu, Japan's largest and most historically important island, and sprawls westward onto the Kanto Plain (the largest plain in all Japan). It is bounded on the southeast by Tokyo Bay, which in turn opens into the Pacific Ocean.
If you look at a map, you'll see that Tokyo retains some of its Edo Period features, most notably a large green oasis in the middle of the city, site of the former Edo Castle and today home of the Imperial Palace and its grounds. Surrounding it is the castle moat; a bit farther out are remnants of another circular moat built by the Tokugawa shogun. The JR Yamanote Line forms another loop around the inner city; most of Tokyo's major hotels, nightlife districts, and attractions are near or inside this oblong loop.
For administrative purposes, Tokyo is divided into 23 wards, known as ku. Its business districts of Marunouchi and Hibiya, for example, are in Chiyoda-ku, while Ginza is part of Chuo-ku (Central Ward). These two ku are the historic hearts of Tokyo, for it was here that the city had its humble beginnings. Greater Tokyo is also a prefecture (similar to a state or province) and includes 26 cities, five towns, and eight villages in addition to its 23 wards, as well as Pacific islands. For most purposes, however, references to Tokyo in this guide pertain mostly to central Tokyo's 23 wards.
Main Streets & Arteries -- One difficulty in finding your way around Tokyo is that hardly any streets are named. Think about what that means -- some 12 million people living in a huge metropolis of nameless streets. Granted, major thoroughfares and some well-known streets in areas such as Ginza and Shinjuku received names after World War II at the insistence of American occupation forces, and a few more have been labeled or given nicknames only the locals know. But for the most part, Tokyo's address system is based on a complicated number scheme that must make the postal workers' jobs here a nightmare. To make matters worse, most streets in Tokyo zigzag -- an arrangement apparently left over from the past to confuse potential attacking enemies. Today they confuse Tokyoites and visitors alike.
Among Tokyo's most important named streets are Meiji Dori, which follows the loop of the Yamanote Line and runs from Minato-ku ward in the south through Ebisu, Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro in the north; Yasukuni Dori and Shinjuku Dori, which cut across the heart of the city east and west from Shinjuku to Chiyoda-ku; and Sotobori Dori, Chuo Dori, Harumi Dori, and Showa Dori, which pass through Ginza. Other major thoroughfares are named after the districts they're in, such as Roppongi Dori in Roppongi and Aoyama Dori in Aoyama (dori means "avenue" or "street," as does michi).
An intersection in Tokyo is called a crossing; it seems every district has a famous crossing. Ginza 4-chome Crossing is the intersection of Chuo Dori and Harumi Dori. Roppongi Crossing is the intersection of Roppongi Dori and Gaien-Higashi Dori.
Finding an Address -- Because streets did not have names when Japan's postal system was established, the country has a unique address system. A typical Tokyo address might read 6-4-21 Ginza, Chuo-ku, which is the address of the Ginza Nikko Hotel. Chuo-ku is the name of the ward. Wards are further divided into named districts, in this case, Ginza. Ginza itself is broken down into chome (numbered subsections), the first number in the series, here 6-chome. The second number (4 in the example) refers to a smaller area within the chome -- usually an entire block, sometimes larger. Thus, houses on one side of the street will usually have a different middle number from houses on the other side. The last number, in this case 21, refers to the actual building. Although it seems reasonable to assume that next to a no. 21 building will be a no. 22, that's not always the case; buildings were assigned numbers as they were constructed, not according to location.
Addresses are usually, but not always, posted on buildings beside doors, on telephone poles, and at major intersection traffic lights, but sometimes they are written in kanji only. One frustrating trend is that new, modern buildings omit posting any address whatsoever on their facades, perhaps in the belief that no one understands the address system anyway.
Finding Your Way Around -- If you're traveling by subway or JR train, the first thing you should do upon exiting your compartment is look for yellow signs posted on every platform that tell which exit to take for particular buildings, attractions, and chome. At Roppongi Station, for example, you'll find yellow signboards that tell you which exit to take for Roppongi Hills, which will at least get you pointed in the right direction once you emerge from the station. Stations also have detailed maps of the area complete with addresses, either inside the station or at the exit; these are your best plans of attack when you're trying to find a particular address.
As you walk around Tokyo, you will notice maps posted beside sidewalks, giving a breakdown of the postal number system for the area (look for a white circle with an "i" in the middle). The first time I tried to use one, I stopped one Japanese, then another, and asked each to point to the location of a particular address on the map. Each person studied the map and pointed out the direction. Both turned out to be wrong. Not very encouraging, but if you learn how to read these maps, they're invaluable. Nowadays, many of them include landmarks translated in English.
Other invaluable sources of information are the numerous police boxes, called koban, located in every neighborhood throughout the city. Police officers have area maps, and helping lost souls seems to be their main occupation. You should also never hesitate to ask a Japanese person for directions, but be sure to ask more than one. You'll be amazed at the conflicting advice you'll receive. Apparently, the Japanese would rather hazard a guess than impolitely shrug their shoulders and leave you standing there. The best thing to do is ask several Japanese and then follow the majority opinion. Or you can duck into a shop and ask someone where a nearby address is, although in my experience, employees do not know the address of their own store. They may, however, have an area map.
Maps -- The maps in this guide are accurate and up-to-date and will help you find the businesses listed in this guide -- but you'll need to arm yourself with a few more maps to properly navigate Tokyo. Maps are so much a part of life in Tokyo that they're often included in shop or restaurant advertisements, on business cards, and even on party invitations. Although I've spent years in Tokyo, I rarely venture forth without a map. The Tourist Information Center issues a "Tourist Map of Tokyo," which includes a subway map. Better, in my opinion, are the free maps from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which range from a city map to detailed maps of Tokyo's many districts. Armed with these maps, you should be able to locate at least the general vicinity of every place mentioned in this guide. Hotels sometimes distribute their own maps. In short, never pass up a free map.
For more detailed maps, head for Tower Books, Kinokuniya, or one of the other bookstores with an English-language section, where you'll find several variations of city maps. My favorite is Shobunsha's Bilingual Map of Tokyo, listing chome and chome subsections for major areas; the compact folded map can be carried in a purse or backpack. If you plan to write a guidebook, consider the Bilingual Atlas of Tokyo, by Tokyo Chizu Publishing Company, or Kodansha International's Tokyo City Atlas, both of which cover all 23 of Tokyo's wards with specific postal maps, provide both Japanese and English-language place names, rail and subway maps, and an index to important buildings, museums, and other places of interest.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.