Basic Japanese: Asking and Receiving Directions
In one of our Study Saturday language series episodes on the Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 4 Episode 6, we looked at directions in Japanese. This is one of the basic Japanese knowledge that one should master when starting out with learning Japanese. In fact, we can also agree that this is a key essential in any traveller’s Japanese language travelling kit.
Study Saturday is our language series that gives you bite-sized grammar pointers on-the-go. It is formatted just like the Nihongo Master online learning system – we cover the language point, give a few examples through role playing scenarios and listing out the new vocabulary words used. If you’re considering signing up for our program but unsure of how it goes, give our Study Saturday language series a listen to try out!
When you’re in a new country, there’s a pretty high chance of getting lost. I must admit that I’m not that good with directions, so I get lost even in my own country! There are two sections under the category of directions: asking for them and receiving them.
Asking for directions
So what’s the most basic question you’d ask when you’re looking for something? “Where is...”. To ask that in Japanese, it’s “...ha doko desu ka?” (〜はどこですか？) If you’re asking someone you’re more familiar with, drop the polite form and just say ”…doko?” (〜どこ？)
Where is (place/item)?
(Place/item) はどこですか？ (formal)
Say you asked someone where the toilet is — the most common question in the world.
Where’s the toilet?
Toire ha doko desu ka?
If you want to be a little fancy and ask someone, “how do I get to...”, then you can say this: “...ni ha douyatte ikimasuka?” (にはどうやって行きますか？)
How do I get to (place)?
(Place) にはどうやって行きますか？ (formal)
Another important question you might want to have in your notebook is “dono kurai kakarimasu ka?” (どのくらいかかりますか？). This translates to “how long/much will it take?”
How long/much will it take…?
Say you want to know how long it takes to go from the station to the park, you can ask it with this sentence: “eki kara Koen made dono kurai kakarimasu ka?” (駅から公園までどのくらいかかりますか？) You can even use it to ask about how much it’ll cost — “ryōkin ha dono kurai kakarimasuka?” (料金はどのくらいかかりますか？)
Ifyou’re going to ask somebody questions for directions, be prepared to get answers for directions. What’s the point of knowing how to ask when you can’t understand the answer?
First off, you need to know your basic directions like left, right, front and back.
Hidari (左) — left
Migi (右) — right
Mae (前) — front
Ushiro (後ろ) — back
Some directional answers are like “it’s over there” — that’s where your “soko” (そこ), “asoko” (あそこ) and so on come in handy. Here are the general directional words:
Koko (ここ) — here
Soko (そこ) — there
Asoko (あそこ) — over there
Some other important words to note are “massugu” (まっすぐ) which means “straight” and “magaru” (曲がる) to mean “to turn”.
Usually, you combine “massugu” with “iku” (行く) to make “massugu iku” (まっすぐ行く) to say “to go straight”. There are also other directional responses like “turn left” or “turn right”. For those, you have to add the direction to the word “magaru”.
To turn left/right
Left/right + に + 曲がる
“To turn left” it’s hidari ni magaru (左にまがる) and “to turn right” it’s migi ni magaru (右に曲がる). Here’s the basic directions listed:
Massugu (まっすぐ) — straight
Magaru (曲がる) — to turn
Massugu ni iku (まっすぐに行く) — to go straight
Hidari ni magaru (左に曲がる) — to turn left
Migi ni magaru (右に曲がる) — to turn right
When you ask a worker “toire ha doko desu ka?” (トイレはどこですか？), they might respond with directions like:
Massugu itte, kado de hidari ni magatte kudasai.
Please go straight and turn left at the corner.
Let’s wrap it up with a quick vocab recap:
Ryōkin (料金) — price
Kaban (カバン) — bag
Omoidasu (思い出す) — to recall or remember
Jinja (神社) — shrine
Michi (道) — street or way
Eki (駅) — station
Hanasu (話す) — to speak
Hayai (早い) — fast or early
Yukkuri (ゆっくり) — slowly
Ichibanme (一番目) — the first. You can change ichi to another number to make it second, third, fourth and so on.
Kōen (講演) — park
Oboeru (覚える) — to remember
Saisho ni (最初に) — firstly
Deguchi (出口) — exit
Daigaku (大学) — university
Daigakusei (大学生) — university student
Yaku (やく) — approximately
Soto (外) — outside
Jitensha (自転車) — bicycle
Don’t be afraid to ask and receive directions!
How confident are you now with your directional language? I feel so much better every single time I revise it. With this basic guide, i assure you that you have nothing to worry about when asking and receiving directions during your Japan trip! Be sure to tune in to Season 4 Episode 6 of the podcast for the full detailed explanation of directions in Japanese!
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