Japan’s two-address systems for land and buildings

Lot numbers indicated on a cadastral map. Different to the postal addresses.

Did you know that buildings and land in Japan can have two addresses? One for registration identification purposes and another to be used as the postal address. While this won’t affect your day-to-day life, it always comes up as a question from buyers when going over the contract of sale documents, so it may be worth explaining it in detail below.

The two address types are:

  1. Registered address as assigned by the Legal Affairs Bureau. Called a ‘chiban’ (地番). Eg. Minamiaoyama 2 Chome 140-1
  2. Postal address (assigned by the local city and ward offices). Eg. Minamiaoyama 2 Chome 3-12

In some regional areas you might find that 1. and 2. are the same, but the more urban areas have shifted over to the two-address system.


Assigning lot numbers to identify land and occupants became a thing in the late 1880s when one’s residence had to be tied to a physical address, and for taxation purposes. Prior to that there was no clear identification system. Land surveys done prior to the 1600s did use numbers to differentiate locations, but this was not used for any address purposes. Even with the introduction of land titles in 1872, the address of the land owner was often vague and limited just to the town they resided in. Even with the family register system in the 1880s, the numbering and neighborhood names were haphazard. As larger lots were sliced up in half, and again in halves and quarters, the numbering system became even more scattered making it difficult to accurately identify or specify properties, especially in cities and towns with several districts using the same name. The postal service also had a difficult time delivering mail when house numbers were not in order.

There was a need to switch over to a street numbering system where houses or buildings had sequential numbers as you went along the block. That why the Act on Indication of Residential Addresses was introduced in 1962. 

As part of the reforms, some neighborhood names were abolished as addresses were lumped together into larger neighborhoods. Not everyone was pleased. Residents of the former Mukogaoka Yayoicho address in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward filed a lawsuit opposing their amalgamation with the Nezu 1 Chome address. Disputes arose in districts all around Tokyo.

In Tokyo’s Minato Ward, 99.71% of the land has switched over to the current addressing system, with the exception of the Azabu-Mamianacho and Azabu-Nagasaka neighborhoods.

Does it matter?

If you want to look up the property title to obtain information on a property, you need to know its registered address. The registered addresses are not listed anywhere publicly. You can find out the address by purchasing expensive books, using the computers or books at the local Legal Affairs Bureau, or calling their support line (in Japanese).

When you are going over the contract documents for buying property you may encounter the two-address system in the documents. The contract of sale and due diligence reporting will list both the registered address and postal address of the property being transacted. You can compare this address with the one on the title to make sure they match.

Tax bills, such as annual taxes (fixed asset and city taxes) and one-time real estate acquisition taxes will indicate the registered address of the property, not the postal address.

Land with no lot number

Some land may not have a lot number. Usually it is nationally-owned land managed by local governments. Roads and waterways, for example, do not have lot numbers and do not have land registers. The purpose of assigning lot numbers and having them displayed on cadastral maps was essentially for taxation purposes of which roads and waterways are not subject to.

There are rare occasions where land may not have a lot number due to a clerical error, or it may have once been a old road or path. This land is considered to be nationally owned. If in doubt, contact a land surveyor.

The image at the top is a cadastral map (公図) showing the registered lot numbers in a particular neighborhood. These maps are provided to show the approximate location and shape of the land and its neighbors but are not always entirely accurate. There are efforts to update these maps with property surveys but it is a lengthy process. Only about half of the maps have been updated nationwide as of 2018.

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