Korea is finally changing the outdated address system.

Korea’s address system is/was different from that which is used in the U.S. (and practically every western nation.)

In the West, we go from smaller to larger, starting first with the person’s name, then the street address, then the city, the state, and if international, the country.

This is a pretty good way of organizing things, because street names make giving directions a lot easier, so if you can name a fairly large street near your house, you have a reference point from which to start. You can then tell the person which streets to turn left or right on, and exactly which number to stop at.

In Korea, however, addresses are listed in this order: Country, Province ‘도’, City ‘시’ (or town or other small district 군, 읍, 리), ward ‘구’, neigborhood ‘동’, the block number, a building number, and finally the person’s name.

This is also efficient in that when mailing something, the order in which it is processed goes from larger to smaller, so naturally the address should do the same. For example, if someone from overseas were to send a letter to me in Korea, it’d go first to some central post office (most likely in Seoul), then sent to some post office in my ward. Then the ward would probably send it to a section of the office that deals with my neighborhood, and the neighborhood people would give it to the postman assigned to my block. He will have memorized the building numbers, thus efficiently delivering my letter to me.

Memorized?

Yes, memorized, because the building numbers don’t have any kind of order based on their locations. They are in the order that the building was built. So, it’s possible for building 35 to be between building 60 and building 3. A long time ago, people weren’t building things at such a rapid rate, so it didn’t really matter. Also, cities were a lot smaller, and people generally didn’t go far from their own homes, so they didn’t have trouble locating things. The postman had a fairly easy time giving people their mail.

Now, with modern transportation and huge cities, there are large numbers of people who find themselves in a part of the city which they aren’t familiar with. This makes giving directions really hard.

An address usually won’t suffice, because nobody really knows what block number they are standing in, let alone any building number. So people generally have to give directions based on landmarks. Advertisements for stores and restaurants usually come with maps to tell you how to get there.

The postmen who have been working in one area of the city for a long time dread the day that they get transferred to another section, because of all the memorization it took for him to learn the neighborhood he was in. He’ll have to do it all over again in his new area. And the postman is usually the only person who actually knows what building numbers (other than their own) are.

This system was put in place by the Japanese when they ruled Korea, and after independence it was continued, well because it worked just fine. Today, you’ll find exact same conditions in Japan, with people needing maps to find things.

Korea is finally breaking away from this system and actually naming the streets and assigning addresses. Yay!

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