Back at home, the majority of people are pretty good at giving directions by using street names. You need to be aware of street names, landmarks, and where things are because its an important part of the culture of California. Although driving is also the main way that everyone gets around in these parts, it's not the same in Kumamoto or in Japan from what I have gathered trying to get my bearings for the past year and nine months since I got here. Most people don't know street names, and some don't even recognize the route 3, 11, or the 57 by their names. This would be like not knowing the names of the I-5, 405, or the 101 back home!
One of the reasons why people don't remember the names is because they are stupidly marked. If a friend gave the directions to "take the 204 to Fukuoka, and you will find the place on the side of the road", then you might well pick the wrong 204 and never find the place until you reached Fukuoka and realised that it might have been on the OTHER 204. Idiotic. I mean, you could clarify by saying "take the 204 to the right by the bypass", but why should you have to. How hard is it to change the name of one of the roads?
My favorite road, the Milk Road, is also marked in a confusing manner. From its spawn point at the Yamanami highway (the 11) it heads off West as the 45 for about fifteen kilometers. Then, for no apparent reason it becomes the 12 for about a ten kilometer stretch, and then reverts to the 45 once again, terminating in Kikuchi (on the 387) after passing through the Gorge (a highly recommended drive!). This is why I think people prefer to use landmarks instead of street names to navigate. The only constants that people will most likely know of are the various legs of the Kyushu expressway, the 3, the 11, and the 57.
Landmarks work surprisingly well, but can also be confusing if improperly used in giving directions. If someone tells you to perform an action (such as turn, go past, etc.) at a conbini (convenience store) then you better get supplemental information. There are so many Lawsons, Family Marts, and 7-11s in close proximity to eachother that navigating by these alone is likely to get you lost.
My friend Jason Wians takes giving directions by using these methods to extremes. The first time I was coming to his house he said the following:
"From Aso, go towards the airport (in Mashiki). Pass the airport, and two or three signals after you will see some ostriches on the left. Turn left. When you see the Everyone (conbini) take a left. Keep going straight until you see some vending machines (this is like saying keep going straight until you see a tree) and turn left. Go straight until you see a hoikuen, and take the right just before you pass it. Take a left at the dog and a right after the old man, and my house will be on the left. Alright, good luck. Yeehaw! Texas rules!!! (which is how he ends every conversation that he has)".
Well, I followed the directions and got there with no problems! Go figure. Had he used the street signs I might have gotten lost, as the "left at the ostrich" street and the next street are both called the 235 and run parallel to eachother for a great distance.