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How to Ask for and Understand Directions in Japanese

7 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Japanese Words and Phrases for Traveling

Exploring Japan can be quite an adventure, but you need to know how to ask for directions in Japanese and how to understand the directions you are given. After all, if you don't know how to understand what you're told, you might miss the very things you hoped to see.

The first thing you need to know is how to ask for directions. To get help you can say Sumimasen. (Excuse me.); or Michi o kiite mo ii desu ka. (May I ask you for directions?); or Tasukete kudasasimasen ka. (Will you help me?).

The following words can be used when asking for or receiving directions in Japan.

tōi (far)
chikai (close)
tonari (next to)
mae (in front of)
ushiro (behind)
chikaku (nearby)
higashi (east)
nishi (west)
minami (south)
kita (north)
migi (right)
hidari (left)
kōsaten (intersection)
michi (street, road)
kado (corner)
hashi (bridge)
massugu iku (to go straight)
migi ni magaru (to turn right)
kōsaten o hidari ni magaru (to turn left at the intersection)
Be forewarned. It can be very difficult to find streets and houses based on addresses in Japan. An address is usually used to indicate the area of a building rather than its exact location. In fact, most streets are usually not laid out in a grid pattern and most of the time there are no street signs. So, having an address might not be enough information to actually find your destination address.

Here are some phrases that might come in handy when you need directions.

  • Takushī de nan-pun gurai desu ka. (How many minutes by taxi approximately?)

  • Mō ichido onegaishimasu. (Could you repeat that, please?)

  • Yukkuri onegaishimasu. (Could you speak slower, please?)

  • Chikatetsu de ikemasu ka. (Can we go there by subway?)

Try putting some phrases and direction words together. The following conversation is typical of getting and receiving directions in Japan.

Tom: Chotto sumimasen. Michi o kiite mo ii desu ka. (Excuse me. May I ask you for directions?)

Hiro: Mochiron. (Of course!)

Tom: Hoteru wa doko desu ka. (Where is the hotel?)

Hiro: Daigaku no kita desu. [(It) is north of the university.]

Tom: ATM wa doko desu ka. (Where is the ATM?)

Hiro: Asoko desu. [(It's) over there.]

Tom: Benten to iu resutoran o shirimasen ka. (Do you know the restaurant called Benten?)

Hiro: Hai. Daigaku no minami desu. (Yes. (It) is south of the university.)

Tom: Eigakan wa dono tōri ni arimasu ka. (What street is the movie theater on?)

Hiro: Eigakan wa migi ni arimasu. (The movie theater is on your right.)

Tom: Gakkō ni wa dōyatte iku n-desu ka. (How do I get to the school?)

Hiro: Migi ni magatte, hidari no hito-tsu-me no michi desu. (Turn right, and it is the first street on your left.)

Tom: Sakura Hoteru wa doko desu ka. (Where is Sakura Hotel located?)

Hiro: Hoteru wa eki no tonari desu. (The hotel is next to the train station.)

Tom: Ginkō to yūbinkyoku no aida desu. [(It) is between the bank and the post office.]

Hiro: Massugu iku to arimasu. (Go straight and you will find it.)

Tom: Hakubutsukan wa koko kara tōi desu ka. (Is the museum far from here?)

Hiro: Koko kara hakubutsukan made yaku ichi-kiromētoru desu. (The museum is about one kilometer from here.)

The measurement units used in Japan are different than those used in the United States. For expressing the distance between two locations, Japanese commonly uses kiromētoru (kilometer) instead of mile. One kilometer is 0.621 miles.
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The Essentials of Japanese Words and Phrases for Traveling

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