This is part two of a multipart guide to reading Japanese place names. Here we’ll cover how numbers are used in place names with examples from around Tokyo and other parts of Japan. The examples given below are by no means exhaustive!
Part 1, which covers directions and geographic relationships, is here: Guide to Reading Japanese Place Names: With Kanji and Examples
Numbers, of course, very often appear in place and street names, just as they do in many languages.
Kanji (Chinese characters) also have multiple readings depending on the context or compound in which they are used.
The chart below summarizes the different ways that number kanji can be read.
(kun yomi, 訓読み)
(on yomi, 音読み)
|四||4||yottsu, yon, yo||shi|
|百||100||hyaku, byaku, pyaku||hiku, biku|
Let’s take a look at some examples of how numbers are used in place names.
一 Hitotsu or Ichi: One
一番街 (Ichiban Gai): Literally “First Street.” The bright neon-lit arch (top photo) at the entrance of Kabukicho’s main street, Ichibangai-dori is a well-known landmark. Kabukicho is one of Japan’s most famous entertainment and nighttime entertainment districts.
一橋大学 (Hitotsubashi Daigaku): Literally “One Bridge University”. A national university specializing in social sciences, with a number of campuses in Tokyo.
六本木一丁目駅 (Roppongi-Itchome Eki): “Roppongi First Block” a station on the Namboku subway line in Tokyo. This is an upscale station that has a direct connection to Izumi Garden Tower.
二 Futatsu or Ni: Two
二子玉川 (Futako Tamagawa): Literally means “Twin Treasure River,” an upscale residential and shopping neighborhood in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, about a 20-minute ride from Shibuya. Apparently, locals like to call it “Nikotama”. This was one of Tokyo’s fastest growing neighborhoods in 2016, as young couples and families looked to move away from the city center.
二重橋 (Nijyu Bashi): “Double Layer Bridge”. Usually written as Nijubashi, this is the official bridge leading to the entrance of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It is only open on important state occasions. There is a second bridge behind this one, which used to be wooden bridge with two levels, which explains the origin of the name.
三 Mitsu or San: Three
四谷三丁目駅 (Yotsuya-sanchome Eki): “San Chome” means the Block 3. Yotsuya Sanchome is a station on the Marunouchi Line in Tokyo.
四 Yotsu or Shi: Four
四谷 (Yotsuya): Literally “Four Valleys”. A neighborhood in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Yotsuya is also a station on the Marunouchi and Namboku subway lines and JR Chuo line.
四国 (Shikoku): Literally “Four Provinces”. The smallest of Japan’s four main islands, known for an 88-temple Buddhist pilgrimage route which encircles the island and its spectacular hiking trails and waterfalls in the interior.
五 Itsutsu or Go: Five
五反田 (Gotanda): Literally “A rice paddy of about 5,000-sqm”. A busy neighborhood in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward. It is located between Meguro and Osaki on the Yamanote line. The name comes from the Edo period when a section of rice paddies formed a valley in the area that was measured to be about 5 “tan” (equal to about 5,000-sqm).
六 Muttsu or Roku: Six
六本木 (Roppongi): Literally “Six Trees”. A district in Tokyo’s Minato Ward known for for its night club scene and in more recent years for upscale Roppongi Hills.
八 Yattsu or Hachi: Eight
八丁堀 (Hatchōbori): Literally “A moat about 873-m wide”. Hatchōbori is a neighborhood in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward west of the Sumida River, south of Nihonbashi and north of Tsukiji. It is also a station on the Hibiya subway line and several JR lines.
九 Kokonotsu or Kyu or Ku: Nine
九州 (Kyushu): Literally “Nine Provinces”. As Wikipedia explains: The southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu has a mostly subtropical climate and is known for its active volcanoes, beaches and natural hot springs.
九段下 (Kudanshita): Literally “Under the nine steps”. Kudanshita is a neighborhood and train station near Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. It is a popular cherry blossom spot for Tokyo locals.
十 Tō or Jyu: Ten
麻布十番 (Azabu Juban): Literally “hemp cloth number 10”. The first two kanji mean “hemp cloth”. Wikipedia (Japanese) tells us that it’s not clear exactly where “number 10” derives from. There are two possibilities: that it was the 10th area of the river that was refurbished or that it was the 10th area to be settled.
Azabu Juban, today is a an upscale residential area that is home to many foreign embassies, but the neighborhood has a relaxed and fun atmosphere with many affordable eateries.
百 Hyaku: One Hundred
百人町 (Hyaku Nin Chō): Literally “One hundred person town”. Hyakunincho is a neighborhood in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo north of Shinjuku Station and west of Okubo.
The name of this neighborhood derives from the Edo period when there was a garrison housing the “Iga Hundred Gun Corps” led by Naito Kiyonari (an important retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu) located in the area. These one hundred men protected the streets in the area and eventually it was named after them.
Naito Kiyonari was also the feudal lord whose land eventually became the area which we today know as Shinjuku. Read about the history of Shinjuku here: Shinjuku Then and Now.
千 Chi or Sen or Zen: One Thousand
千鳥ヶ淵 (Chidorigafuchi): Literally “Chasm deep in plovers”. Chidori is Japanese for “wading birds” and “fuchi” means a chasm or deep pool. Chidorigafuchi is a moat located in the northwest of the Imperial Palace. It is said the name comes from the moat’s shape, which resembles plovers.
千駄ヶ谷 (Sendagaya): Literally “Valley where there is a lot”.
One of the explanations of the origin of Sendagaya’s name is that Ota Dokan, a 15th-century samurai warrior-poet was patrolling through the area and looked down into the valley where there was an abundance of rice growing. The area was named after this observation!
As Shibuya Ward’s official site explains 駄 means “the amount that can be carried by one horse”.
千駄 means “That’s a lot”. 谷 means “valley”. So the whole name literally means “valley where there is a lot” (of rice!).
Sendgaya is located in Shibuya Ward between Shinjuku and Shibuya.
You may also be interested in: Guide to Reading Japanese Place Names: With Kanji and Examples