directions in japanese

Asking for Directions in Japanese: Find Your Way to Fluency with These 35+ Words and Phrases

It was a cold night in Hiroshima and I was lost.

I had embarked on my first international trip by myself at the green age of 19 a few days prior.

Now, I was on the wrong bus in the middle of the night in a country where I couldn’t speak the language.

Great. How did this happen?

Because I didn’t know how to ask for directions in Japanese.

My Japanese on this dreary night in 2011 was virtually zero.

Learning the simple act of asking for directions might seem like something you can skip, but take it from me, it can spell disaster, especially if you’re visiting Japan.

You can’t rely on people speaking your native tongue, especially in Japan. But you can expect a higher willingness (or duty) to help you. In fact, a kind stranger on the bus walked for two hours with me to my hotel when I was lost in Japan!

Even if your Japanese sounds like Spongebob’s laugh on repeat, Japanese speakers will usually listen. And if you do get lost, you can use the opportunity to ask a stranger on the street or a convenience store cashier for directions.

Asking for directions is a great way to start up a conversation and practice your Japanese!

To start, you’ll need some basic words and phrases to get your message across.

But none of these phrases matter if you don’t know how to open the conversation right and get a response you understand. That’s what we’ll cover first. Let’s dive in!

Tips for Asking for Directions in Japanese

Since navigating a conversation is half of the battle, here are a few things you can keep in mind when asking for directions. These tips helped me tremendously when I first started speaking Japanese, and they can be applied to any type of conversation, not just asking for directions.

  • Be approachable. Body language is communication. People see you before they hear you. Approach with open body language to ease someone’s nerves. It’s in your best interest to show with your body that you’re ready to engage and listen. This looks like open hands, a straight spine and a genuine smile. You can also read up on specific Japanese body language and gestures to make sure you know what not to do in Japan!

directions in japanese

  • Watch conversations between native speakers. If you’re nervous about asking for directions in real life or starting up a conversation in general, one thing that can really help is watching native speakers talk naturally so you have a model for how to speak. You can use a program like FluentU to watch thousands of authentic Japanese videos.

    FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

    Each video comes with interactive captions so you can click on words (such as direction vocabulary) and find out more about them and see them used in additional videos. With FluentU, you can also add words to customizable vocab lists, practice them with flashcards and test your knowledge of them with quizzes.
  • Listen for the main terms. Usually, you won’t be able to catch everything that someone says in your non-native language. So, instead, focus on the words that you do know. Pick those out and use them to get the gist of the conversation. Walk into the conversation being okay with not understanding everything.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for the speaker to repeat. If you don’t understand something, don’t pretend that you do. That doesn’t help anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask again until you have a solid idea of what the other person is saying. Otherwise, you’ll have to go through the same thing with someone else after getting lost again. Here’s a simple phrase you can use when you’re lost in the conversation: すみません。もう一度お願いします。 (すみません。もういちどおねがいします。) — Sorry, can you please repeat that?
  • At first, use simple words and phrases that are hard to mess up. When it comes to speaking, you can’t go wrong with simple phrases. After using them a couple of times, you’ll feel more comfortable with them and can start to expand your vocabulary to include more difficult words. Memorize a handful of words and phrases about directions, and you’ll enter the conversation with confidence. You don’t need to know everything, just enough. Let’s explore these basic phrases in the next section.

Asking for Directions in Japanese: Find Your Way to Fluency with These 35+ Words and Phrases

Basic Direction Words

Here are some essential Japanese words you need to know when asking for directions!

  • (ひだり): left
  • (みぎ): right
  • 真っ直ぐ (まっすぐ): straight
  • (きた): north
  • (みなみ): south
  • (ひがし): east
  • 西 (にし): west
  • 曲がる (まがる): turn
  • (となり)に: next to
  • 後ろ (うしろ)に: behind
  • (まえ)に: in front of
  • 向こう側 (むこうがわ)に: across from
  • その近く (そのちかく)に: nearby
  • 遠い (とおい): far
  • 行く (いく): to go
  • 止まる (とまる): to stop
  • ~まで: until this point
  • 交差点 (こうさてん): intersection
  • (みち): road
  • 看板 (かんばん): sign
  • バス: bus
  • 地下鉄 (ちかてつ): subway
  • 電車 (でんしゃ): train
  • トイレ: bathroom
  • ホテル: hotel
  • コンビニ: convenience store (This one is on our list because, surprisingly, you can do a lot of things at a convenience store in Japan, so you’re likely going to need to visit one at some point during your travels!)
  • 郵便局 (ゆうびんきょく): post office
  • 図書館 (としょかん): library
  • 市役所 (しやくしょ): City Hall
  • 観光案内所 (かんこうあんないじょ): Tourist Information Center
  • デパート: department store
  • スーパー: supermarket

Common Phrases

And now for some basic phrases that’ll help you apply the above vocabulary to actual conversations.

  • 「すみません。もう一度お願いします (もういちどおねがいします)。」
    “Excuse me. Would you repeat that for me?”
  • 「Xはどこにありますか?」
    “Where is…?”
  • 「Xまで行くと、どのぐらい時間 (じかん) がかかりますか?」
    “How far is…?”
  • 「~右・左側 (みぎ・ひだりがわ) にあります。」
    “It’ll be on your right/left…”
  • 「道の突き当り (つきあたり)
    “End of the street.”
  • 「右・左 (みぎ・ひだり) にXがあります。」
    “[Place] will be on your right/left.”

Example Dialogues

Here are a few examples of asking for directions in Japanese. The original Japanese has been written first, followed by the hiragana (when applicable) and English translation.

Learners can practice these dialogues by reading them out loud, either by yourself or with a partner. Beginner learners could also ask a native speaker(s) to read them and see how many words you can pi9ck out. This is a great way to practice listening for the main terms in a conversation!

Dialogue #1: Basic Template for Asking for Directions in Japanese

For the purpose of this dialogue, you’re looking for the post office because you need to withdraw some money at the ATM.

You see an older man sitting on a bench. You make eye contact and he smiles at you, so you approach him.

You: すみません。郵便局 はどこにありますか?

(すみません。ゆうびんきょくはどこにありますか?)
Excuse me. Do you know where the post office is?

Him: 郵便局ですね。あの~あっ、そこの交差点がみえますか?

(ゆうびんきょくですね。あの~あっ、そこのこうさてんがみえますか?)
The post office, huh? Let me see. Oh, can you see that intersection over there?

You: はい。
Yes.

Him: じゃあ、そこの交差点で右に曲がって下さい。

(じゃあ、そこのこうさてんでみぎにまがってください。)
Okay, take a right at that light.

You: はい。
Okay.

Him: そして、その道の突き当りまで行ったら、右側に郵便局があります。

(そして、そのみちのつきあたりまでいったら、みぎがわにゆうびんきょくがあります。)
After that, go straight to the end of that street and you’ll see the post office on your right.

You: ありがとうございます!
Thank you!

Dialogue #2: Understanding Japanese Directions in Real-world Contexts

As you turn to walk away to head to the post office, you hear the following:

Him: ちょっと待って!今、思い出したんですけど、こんな時間になったからもう閉まっていると思うよ。

(ちょっとまって!いま、おもいだしたんですけど、こんなじかんになったからもうしまっているとおもうよ。)
Hold on! I just remembered that the post office isn’t open this late.

You: 本当ですか?!

(ほんとうですか?!)
Really?!

Him: はい。ごめんなさいね。なんか、手紙とか送るんですか?

(はい。ごめんなさいね。なんか、てがみとかおくるんですか?)
Yes. Sorry about that. Did you want to send a letter or something?

You: いいえ。ATMを使いたいんです。

(いいえ。ATMをつかいたいんです。)
No, I’m looking for an ATM.

Him: ああ、もっと早く言ってくれればよかったのに~

(ああ、もっとはやくいってくれればよかったのに~)
Ohh, if you had only told me that earlier!

You: ああ、はい。
Well…

Him: じゃあ、郵便局じゃなくてもいいですよね?ATMがある所でもいいでしょう?

(じゃあ、ゆうびんきょくじゃなくてもいいですよね?ATMがあるところでもいいでしょう?)
So it doesn’t have to be a post office, right? Anywhere with an ATM is okay?

You: まあ、国際カードが使えるATMなら大丈夫です。

(まあ、こくさいカードがつかえるATMならだいじょうぶです。)
As long as it takes international cards, I’m okay.

Him: わかった。じゃあ、さっきと同じの交差点で、今度は左に曲がってください。

(わかった。じゃあ、さっきとおなじのこうさてんで、こんどはひだりにまがってください。)
Got it. Okay, so walk to that same intersection, and this time, take a left.

You: はい。
Okay.

Him: そしたら、次の交差点まで行って、右に曲がってください。

(そしたら、つぎのこうさてんまでいって、みぎにまがってください。)
Once you get there, go to the next light and take a right.

You: はい。
Okay.

Him: ちょっと行ったら、コンビニが左側にあります。

(ちょっといったら、コンビニがひだりがわにあります。)
Go along that road for a bit and you’ll see a convenience store on your left.

You: 本当にありがとうございました!

(ほんとうにありがとうございました!)
Thank you so much!

Him: いえいえ~気を付けてね。

(いえいえ~きをつけてね。)
No problem. Take care.

You: さようなら。
Goodbye.

Dialogue #3: Being Polite While Asking for Directions in Japanese

Even when asking for directions, you may have to make some occasional small talk. For example, as you head out to the convenience store, the man might call you back again, asking:

Him: お姉さんはどこの国から来ましたか?

おねえさんはどこのくにからきましたか?
What country did you come from?

You: カナダから来ました。

カナダからきました。
I’m Canadian.

Him: ああ、カナダはいい国ですね。メープルシロップでしょう?

ああ、カナダはいいくにですね。メープルシロップでしょう?
I see. Canada is a great country. Maple syrup, right?

You: はい。メープルシロップが有名です。それでは、失礼します。

はい。メープルシロップがゆうめいです。それでは、しつれいします。
Yes, maple syrup is famous indeed. Thank you again, I’ll be heading out now.

Him: おお、難しい日本語を知っていますね!さようなら~

おお、むずかしいにほんごをしっていますね!さようなら~
Wow, you know difficult Japanese! Goodbye.

You: さようなら~
Goodbye.

If you’d like to practice additional dialogues, check out this video from Japanese Ammo with Misa, which includes some great phrases for asking directions:

If you like this video, Japanese Ammo has many more in which Misa explains Japanese vocabulary and grammar for learners.

 

Now that you have these tips and phrases under your belt, you can go out and ask for directions in Japanese without fail!


Brandon Chin is a Jamaican-Chinese hybrid and sees the world just the same: a mash-up of different stories. He spends his time asking questions through his novels. Based in Fukuoka, he helps you travel to Japan virtually through his podcast, Raw Japan, and his free daily newsletter here: brandonchin.net.

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