Japanese Essentials: How to Ask For Directions in Japanese

In Japan, streets are not named but have numbers – with the exception of the main roads. Thus, finding your way around the cities can be challenging.

Posted by on August 4, 2017 – Japanese Study
Ask For Directions

Having to ask for directions in Japan is a challenge because in Japan, streets are not named but have numbers – with the exception of the main roads. Thus, finding your way around the cities can be challenging. Knowing how to ask for directions and having a a bit of Japanese understanding will definitely help you get on your way.

Let’s learn first a useful key-sentence to tell people you’re trying to ask for directions to go to the post office.

Jessica: すみません、郵便局ゆうびんきょくきたいんですが・・・・・・。
警察官かいせつかん:あの公園こうえんひだりですよ。

Jessica: Excuse-me, I’m trying to get to the post office but…
Policeman: It’s on the left of that park.

Next let’s look closely at the key vocabulary in the previous example.

  • に ー particle indicating location or direction.
  • 行く ー to go
  • ですが ー the copula です (‘to be’, ‘it is’) combined with the particle が is a set expression meaning “but”, “however”.
  • ん(ですが) ー the addition of ん indicates the speaker is asking for an explanation.
  • の ー the particle の has many meanings and usage. Here it translates “of”.
  • よ ー the particle よ at the end of a sentence indicates emphasis / certainty.

When asking for directions you can use, “(place) に行きたい” which translates to “I would like to go to (place)” but also “I’m trying to get to (place)”. The “んですが” often precedes a sentence requesting information, here “I don’t know the way / could you tell-me the way/ where is it”.

Since the nuance is obvious from the context, you can omit the sentence following. In Japanese language the context matters a lot and  omissions are frequent.

You can also ask for precisions, such as the distance to the place you’re going.

Jessica: すみません、富士病院にいきたいんですが、・・・・・・。
警察官: ここまっすぐですよ。
Jessica: 近いですか。
警察官: はい、近いですよ。/ いいえ、ちょっと遠いですよ。

Jessica: Excuse-me, I’m trying to get to Fuji Hospital but…
Policeman: It’s straight down here.
Jessica: Is it near?
Policeman: Yes, it’s near. / No, it’s a little far.

  • ちかい: near
  • とおい: far
  • ちょっと: a little bit

Vocabulary Review

Places:

  • 郵便局ゆうびんきょく ー post office
  • 映画館えいがかん ー movie theater
  • 銀行ぎんこう ー bank
  • 動物園どうぶつえん ー zoo
  • 公園こうえん ー park
  • 病院びょういん ー hospital
  • 美術館びじゅつかん ー art museum

Directions:

  • ここまっすぐ ー straight up, down here
  • あっち ー over that way
  • むこう ー over there
  • ひだり ー to the left of
  • みぎ ー to the right of
  • まえ ー in front of
  • ちかく ー near
  • となり ー next to
  • うしろ ー behind

Let’s go further with a more detailed conversation. The conversation includes a review of our past articles “how to ask if a place is nearby” and “how to ask where something is“.

Anne: すみません。
女の人: はい。
Anne: さくら公園こうえんきたいんですが・・・・・・。
女の人: えっと・・・、ここまっすぐですよ。
Anne: そうですか。あ、それから、このへんにATMがありますか。
女の人: そうですね・・・あ、コンビニにありますよ。
Anne: コンビニはどこですか。
女の人:  さくら公園こうえんまえです。
Anne: ありがとうございます。

Anne: Excuse-me.
Woman: Yes?
Anne: I’m trying to get to the Park Sakura but…
Woman: Err… It’s down here.
Anne: Oh, I see. Ah, after this, and is there an ATM around here?
Woman: Is that so? Ah, there’s one in the convenience store.
Anne: Where is the convenience store?
Woman: It’s in front of the Park Sakura.
Anne: Thank you very much.

  • えっと: “let me see”, “err”, “well”, interjection
  • あ: “Ah!”, expression of surprise, recollection etc.
  • それから: “and then”, “after that”, often used when asking an additional question

Why don’t you try practicing asking for directions using this map? Try telling the person where the post office, art museum, book store, and cinema is.

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