Knowing how to pronounce and translate a Japanese place name is probably the most irritating and time-consuming task for a technical translator. Luckily, I don't often come across many of them, but once in a while, a place name turns up in the text I translate. In the past, it took me several valuable minutes to decipher the reading, but I'm now ready.
What happens if you come across a place name like 下吉田?You could of course guess, but you need to know the correct name. Sometimes 吉田町 may be pronounced Yoshidamachi or Yoshidacho depending on where it is located. The first thing I do is get hold of the postal code, or at least the name of prefecture to which this place belongs. In the first case, I had a postal code so the task is easy. Just go to either of these locations below and enter the postal 3691503.
If you want the name in Japanese, go to the Yubin Senmon Net and enter the postal code which gives you さいたまけん ちちぶし しもよしだ, 埼玉県 秩父市 下吉田
If you want it straight in English, go here: and enter the postal code which gives you Shimoyoshida, Chichibushi, Saitama-ken.
The Yuujiro 郵次郎 site gives you the results in Japanese. You could also copy and paste just the name in the search box, in which case you are presented multiple locations with the same name in various parts of the country (13 下吉田s all over the country).
Another source that helps you dig finer into place names until you reach small towns and villages when you don't know the postal code but have the detailed address is Mapion .You select the prefecture name, dig down and you can reach a village too (some of these may be called "azas" (字）). For 下吉田, select 埼玉県、秩父市 and look under さ. You can find the location on the map too.
A reader of this blog who chose to remain anonymous (Thanks, Anonymous), pointed out a Firefox add-on called OpenSearchFox that helps you add search engines quickly to your browser. I just added YubinSenmonNet to the search, and all I need to do now is enter the name or postal code to perform the search. See the images below with the search for 3691503 entered and the corresponding results.
You can also download a huge file consisting of place names in Japan from Prof. Jim Breen's site, place it on your hard disk and search for the place names. Have a great day!