Apartment Numerology

This started out as a rant about how cold it’s been lately. Yes, it is cold enough here for someone from Saskatchewan to be complaining about it. Anyway, my rant morphed into an explanation of Japanese Apartment Numerology. I got rid of the rant and left the numbers. But I’ll post my lovely rant as soon as I’ve finished it.

According to Japanese superstition, four is an unlucky number for housing. Fourth floor, apartment number four, etc. Anyone who’s looked closely at our address will see where this is going. Those who don’t know our address, keep reading. All will become clear.

Without going into a lot of detail about how the Japanese language works, the basic explanation is that one of the pronunciations of the number four, shi is a homonym with the word for death, also shi. Ignoring the fact that when describing apartment numbers the other pronunciation, yon is used. In any case apartment four is The Apartment of Death and the fourth floor is The Floor of Death. Apartment 4 on the 4th floor is the jackpot of gloom. It’s similar to the North American superstition about the number 13. But the superstition around 4 and housing in Japan is so strong that rents in these unpopular places are often significantly less than places unafflicted with the numerological curse. There’s a simple cosmetic workaround, though. It uses simple math: add 100 to the address, turning apartment 4 into 104. Voila! Curse banished.

Back to our building. It’s basically a 4×4 grid of apartments. The basic mathematical arrangement is like the table below. This is the view from the front of the building, except that only the pink and grey parts are the actual building. The rest are just labels. The numbers inside the yellow boxes indicate which stairway. Our building has two stairways, so this number tells you which side to go up. The pink apartments are all accessible from stairway 1, the grey from stairway 2. The numbers on the left are the floor numbers, starting from 1 at the lowest floor. The numbers along the bottom are the actual apartment numbers, from left to right. The combination of a stairway number and a unique apartment number is redundant, but seems to help the delivery folk, insurance salespeople and other assorted zealots.

  1 2
  1 2 3 4

Clear as mud? Here’s the same table, with the apartment numbers filled in.

  1 2
4 141 142 143 144
3 131 132 133 134
2 121 122 123 124
1 111 112 113 114
  1 2 3 4

Let’s add in one more number. The block number, which is the number of the city or village block precedes the apartment number. And sensibly so. Very few streets have names so navigating here is like finding a house by postal code. Our block number is, you guessed it, 4. The Block of Death.

So the complete address for our apartment is constructed as follows:

Prefecture Fukuoka-ken ken is Japanese for prefecture—an administrative subdivision similar to a province or a state



shi is Japanese for city. For those of you keeping score, this is completely different from the shi of “four” and “death” fame.



ku is Japanese for ward, one of the ways of subdividing a city into major sections



machi and cho are two ways of reading the character for village. This is one of the ways to divide a ward into smaller pieces. Kannon is the Buddhist goddess of mercy. She’s known in India as Avalokitesvara, in China as Kuan Yin. ji means temple. So Kannonji-cho is translates as Village of the Temple of the the Goddess of Mercy. We can see said temple from our northwest-facing windows.

Block (followed by dash)



Building-specific numbering system


In our case it’s Stairway, the number “1,” Floor Number, Apartment Number

Stairway (followed by dash)



The number “1”


Floor Number



Apartment Number



All tidied up, it looks like this: Fukuoka-ken Kitakyushu-shi Tobata-ku Kannonji-machi 4-2-144. In Japanese characters it’s often written all together. I’d originally planned to include the kanji (Japanese characters) but I’ve done enough code wrangling just getting the tables to display. Apologies for their brutally ugly functionality, which reminds me of our building. I’ll try to dig up some pictures.

If you were interested in complete efficiency (as the Japanese are often assumed to be), you could eliminate two digits from this address: the stairway number and the cosmetic “1” on the apartment number, resulting in Fukuoka-ken Kitakyushu-shi Tobata-ku Kannonji-machi 4-44. Hrmmm… Not terribly auspicious. I think I just figured out why our rent is so low. May the Goddess of Mercy protect us!