… the largest city in the world is practically unclassified, the spaces which compose it in detail are unnamed. This domiciliary obliteration seems inconvenient to those (like us) who have been used to asserting that the most practical is always the most rational (a principle by virtue of which the best urban toponymy would be that of numbered streets, as in the United States or in Kyoto, a chinese city).

Tokyo meanwhile reminds us that the rational is merely one system among others.  for there to be a mastery of the real (in this case, the reality of addresses), it suffices that there be a system, even if this system is apparently illogical, uselessly complicated, curiously disparate: a good bricolage can not only work for a very long time, as we know; it can also satisfy millions of inhabitants inured, furthermore, to all the perfections of technological civilization.

Anonymity is compensated for by a certain number of expedients (at least this is how they look to us), whose  combination forms a system. One can figure out the address by a (written or printed) schema of orientation, a kind of geographical summary which situates the domicile starting from a known landmark; a train station, for instance […]

(the inhabitants excel in these impromptu drawings, where we see being sketched, right on the scrap of paper, a street, an apartment house, a canal, a railroad line, a shop sign, making the exchange of addresses into a delicate communication in which a life of the body, an art of the graphic gesture recurs: it is always enjoyable to watch someone write, a ll the more so to watch someone draw: from each occasion when someone has given me an address in this way, i retain the gesture of my interlocutor reversing his pencil to rub out, with the eraser at its other end, the excessive curve of an avenue, the intersection of a viaduct; though the eraser is an object contrary to the graphic tradition of Japan, this gesture still produced something peaceful, something caressing and certain, as if, even in this trivial action, the body “labored with more reserve than the mind,” according to the precept of the actor Zeami; the fabrication of the address greatly prevailed over the address itself, and, fascinated, i could have hoped it would take hours to give me that address).

Roland Barthes

Empire of Signs, 1970

Hill and Wang, 1983