Directions in Japanese — Navigating Your Way Around Japan

In this lesson, you will learn basic terms on directions in Japanese. Picture yourself confidently navigating the enchanting landscapes of Japan, fully equipped with not just basic vocabulary but expertise on how to communicate effectively in various situations.

wood arrows pointing at different directions

Whether you find yourself amidst the bustling streets of a metropolis or deciphering the intricacies of the Japanese train system, this article is your key to unlocking the secrets of giving directions in Japanese, making your journeys in Japan an adventure to remember.

Now, let’s master directions!

All the Basics

With any language, including the Japanese language, it’s essential to know the basics: forwards, backward, left, and right. Similarly, it’s also important to know how to speak Japanese when saying North, South, East, and West when referring to locations on a map.

Some train stations and district names are also named after cardinal directions. For instance, Nishi-Shinjuku is a literal translation of “West Shinjuku.” This knowledge not only helps in navigating the city but also enriches your ability to speak Japanese effectively.

Basic directions in Japanese

These basic direction terms are used almost every day when you’re traveling around Japan.

  • Direction – 方向 – ほうこう (hōkō)
  • Forwards or front – 前 – まえ (mae)
  • Backwards or back – 後ろ – うしろ (ushiro)
  • Right – 右 – みぎ (migi)
  • Left – 左 – ひだり (hidari)

Cardinal directions in Japanese

Of course, you also need to learn the four main points of the compass in Japanese.

  • North – きた (kita) – 北
  • South – みなみ (minami) – 南
  • East – ひがし (higashi) – 東
  • West – にし (nishi) – 西

Here are some example sentences:

Person A:  ほんやはどのほうこうですか。(honya wa dono hōkō desu ka? | 本屋はどの方向ですか)

Which direction is the bookstore?

Person B (replying): ほんや は じゅうメートルひだりほうこうにあります。(honya wa jū mētoru hidari hōkō ni arimasu. | 本屋は10メートル左方向にあります。)

The bookstore is located 10 meters in the left direction.

Describing Directions in Japanese

Now that we know the basics, including Japanese directions, let’s dig a little deeper. Suppose you are reading a travel guidebook that explains how to get to the Tokyo Tower from your station.

You will have to know more than North, South, East, or West. Incorporating these basic phrases, verbs, adjectives, and nouns in this section will help you understand and describe directions more clearly, enhancing your ability to navigate and converse effectively in the Japanese language.

Common verbs for directions:

Learn important action words that help you navigate and give directions effectively in Japanese.

  • to go – いく (iku) – 行く
  • to head towards – むかう (mukau) – 向かう
  • to turn – まがる  (magaru) – 曲る
  • to go through – とおる  (tōru) – 通る
  • to cross – わたる  (wataru) – 渡る


えきからにしへむかいます。(eki kara nishi e mukai masu. | 駅から西へ向かいます。)

Head towards West from the train station.

ここからみぎにまっがてください。(koko kara migi ni magatte kudasai. | ここから右に曲がってください。)

Please turn right from here. 

Common adjectives to describe directions:

Here are some adjectives that will enable you to describe different directions and locations in Japanese clearly.

  • Straight – まっすぐ (massugu) – 真っ直ぐ
  • Diagonal – ななめ (naname) – 斜め
  • Opposite – はんたい (hantai) – 反対
  • Ahead – さき  (saki) – 先
  • Next to ___  – となり (tonari) – 隣
  • Close – ちかい  (chikai) – 近い
  • Nearby – ちかく (chikaku) – 近く
  • Far -とおい (tōi) – 遠い
  • Next – つぎ (tsugi) – 次


えきのとなりにおみせがあります。(eki no tonari ni omise ga arimasu. | 駅のとなりにお店があります。)

The store is next to the train station.

このみちをまっすぐとおってください。(kono michi wo massugu tō-tte kudasai. | この道を真っ直ぐ通ってください。)

Please go straight on this street.

Common nouns to describe certain places/things:

Below is a list of nouns that will allow you to identify and discuss specific places and objects when learning Japanese.

  • Street – みち (michi) – 道
  • Side – がわ (gawa) – 側
  • Corner – かど (kado) – 角
  • Address – じゅうしょ (jūsho) – 住所
  • Sidewalk or walkway – ほどう (hodō) – 歩道
  • Intersection – こうさてん (kōsaten) – 交差点
  • Crosswalk – おうだんほどう (ōdanhodō) – 横断歩道
  • Bridge – はし (hashi) – 橋
  • Building – びる (biru) – ビル
  • Underground – ちか (chika) – 地下
  • Slope (uphill or downhill) – さか (saka) – 坂
  • Stairs – かいだん (kaidan) – 階段


こうさてんをわたってからおみせがみえます。(kōsaten wo watatte kara omise ga miemasu. | 交差点を渡ってからお店が見えます。)

You will see the store after you cross the intersection.

ちかほどうにレストランがあります。(chika no hodō ni resutoran ga arimasu. | 地下歩道にレストランがあります。)

There’s a restaurant in the underground walkway.

Asking for Directions in Public

Now that we know a good amount of adjectives, verbs, and nouns, you will be able to understand and describe directions quite well. However, you might still get lost or confused, despite how small Japan might seem. In these cases, it’s important to know how to ask politely.

girl asking questions with a confused look

Approaching someone in public

When you approach a stranger in English, you usually start off by saying, “Excuse me.” Likewise, there is a Japanese equivalent that you will use often in your everyday life:

Excuse me – すみません (sumimasen)

Helpful phrases to go along with sumimasen:

  •  道をお尋ねして良いですか? (michi o otazune shite ii desuka?)

Can I ask you for (street) directions?

  • 私は迷子です。(watashi wa maigo desu.)

I am lost. 

  • 私は道に迷っています。(watashi wa michi ni mayotte imasu.)

I am confused with the streets (directions).

Phrases for asking for directions in Japanese

After saying sumimasen and explaining your situation with a friendly smile, you can follow up further with these questions/phrases:

  •  コンビニはどこですか? (kobini wa doko desu ka?)

Where is the convenience store?

  • ここからどうやってコンビニに行けますか? (koko kara dōyatte konbini ni ikemasu ka?)

How do I get to the convenience store from here?

  • この住所に行きたいです。(kono jūsho ni ikitai desu.)

I want to go to this address.

  • 近くにゆうびんきょくありますか? (chikaku ni yuubinkyoku armasu ka?)

Is there a post office nearby?

  •  一番近いバスていはどこですか? (ichiban chikai basutei wa doko desu ka?)

Where’s the nearest bus stop?

 And don’t forget to say arigatou gozaimasu and thank the stranger for their help!

Giving Directions in Public

Navigating your way through Japan or communicating with Japanese speakers can become much more comfortable when you know how to give and understand directions in Japanese.

man pointing directly at a pinned location

Common Vocabulary for Giving Directions

Before you embark on your journey to give directions, it’s crucial to learn some essential Japanese vocabulary:

  • In front or before – まえ (mae) – 前
  • Behind or the back – うしろ (ushiro) – 後ろ
  • Left – ひだり (hidari) – 左
  • Right – みぎ (migi) – 右
  • Go straight ahead – ちょくしん (chokushin) – 直進


えきはひだりです 。(eki wa hidari desu. | 駅は左です。)

The station is on your left.

ちょくしんしてください 。(chokushin shite kudasai. | 直進してください。)

Go straight ahead.

かく お みぎ に まがってください 。(kado o migi ni magatte kudasai. | 角を右に曲がってください。)

Turn right at the corner.

Wrap Up

From the iconic city life of Tokyo to the breathtaking historic temples, Japan is full of exciting places to explore. As a small island country, Japan is relatively easy to get around. Most Japanese people commute by walking, public transportation, or a combination of both.

Having said that, you don’t really need a car to get around, but even so, if you’re eager to learn Japanese, you’ll still have to know how to address directions in Japanese.

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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