Do you know what the most common point of reference is for Japanese directions? Convenience stores and Fast Food Joints. Second most common point of reference, stoplights. Now, this works all well and good when there are stoplights and convenience stores around. When you're trying to find the next temple on your circuit of the suburbs of Kyoto, you might as well be looking for highway signs in Wyoming, or cornfields in Manhattan.
This would be all fine and dandy if the streets had names.
That's right. You read that. The streets don't have names.
What? What do you mean?
Oh, you see, the streets are empty spaces. The blocks have names.
Oh, the blocks have names. Ah, that makes... What?
That's right. If you need to follow a street from point A to point B, and the street curves at all, you'll need a list of all the blocks between point A and point A in order to successfully navigate from point A to point B, and may heaven help you if you try to follow a parallel path.
Better yet, take your favorite map. Now try writing a name, the approximate length of "shinjikawaza" on each block. You'll quickly see why maps generally don't include block names. In fact, the blocks don't often have the block names on them.
How do people find their way? Well, they either know where they are going, or, as In Kyoto, they actually ask the direction-givers who stand at major intersections, and give directions to lost tourists.
That's right, Kyoto hires full-time direction givers at especially confusing intersections, to help the lost find their way around the city.
Now, if you know why one would stick with a system of naming blocks rather than maps, please, please, please, I'm begging you, tell me. I don't like being kept in the dark about why other cultures do other things differently, and I do long to marvel at the other ways of thinking I'm not familiar with. As it stands, I have no clue.
On a related request, if you can tell me how one could understand directions in block-format without a compass, please let me know. Assume that you have a point to direct someone to on the Northeast corner of a block, thirteen blocks away, with three turns involved in getting from here to there, and then give instructions. Please explain your work. I never succeeded, in three months in Japan, in getting or following directions in block-format.