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! 

Grammar Point 

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)

(Place/item) どこ?(informal)

Say you asked someone where the toilet is — the most common question in the world. 

Where’s the toilet?

Toire ha doko desu ka?

トイレはどこですか?

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)

(Place) にはどうやって行く?(informal)

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…?

〜どのくらいかかりますか?

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?)

Receiving directions

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.

まっすぐ行って、角で左に曲がってください。

Please go straight and turn left at the corner.

Vocab Recap

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!