Survival Japanese

How to ask for directions in Japanese

If you are travelling in Japan you will often find yourself lost in big cities like Tokyo or even in the countryside. It’s a good idea to know how to ask for directions, here’s how to do it.

ホテルはどこですか in Romaji hoteru-ha-doko-desu-ka (the ‘ha’ is pronounced ‘wa’ so it sounds like this hoteru-wa-doko-desu-ka

You can insert the name of your hotel in front of the word ‘hoteru’ (hotel).

Lets break this sentence down a bit, you might have noticed that the first word ホテル (hoteru) uses slightly different characters than the rest of the sentence. That’s because the word hotel comes from English, words from other languages, not just English use characters called Katakana. The characters are slightly different from Hiragana (the characters that are written in the rest of the sentence) はどこですか (ha-doko-desu-ka). These words that use Katakana are quite common and if you learn them you can have an instant vocabulary of words that are borrowed from other languages. This is really helpful because when you are trying to learn a language that is so different from your language you need something to hook onto that you can connect to something you already know to help you understand the rest of the sentence. I’ll write a post on this but for now lets get back to asking for directions.

ホテルはどこですか hoteru-wa-doko-desu-ka where is the hotel?

The は in this sentence pronounced wa indicates what we are talking about in the sentence, the thing that came before it in the sentence, which in this case is ‘hotel’ ホテル hoteru. Think of it as saying something like, as for the hotel…

When you look at the last character in the sentence, it’s か (ka) This turns a sentence into a question. You don’t need to change the tone of your voice at the end of a sentence like in other languages. Then when we look at the middle part of the sentence, we can see the word どこ (doko) This means where, and finally we have です (desu) (don’t over emphasise the u when you say it, it’s usually just pronounced dess). です (desu) you can think of it as kind of like ‘it is’. It makes the sentence more polite to use the word desu.

So the whole sentence again,

ホテルはどこですか hoteru-wa-doko-desu-ka Where is the hotel? (You can think of it as: As for the hotel where is it?)

So what you do now is change the first word and just memorize the last part of the sentence and you can ask directions to anywhere.

For example here a few places you might need to get too,

駅  えき (eki) means train station.

郵便局  ゆうびんきょく (yuu-bin-kyoku) means post office.

銀行 ぎんこう (Ginkou) means bank.

居酒屋 いざかや (Izakaya) is a Japanese style pub where you can also get tasty Japanese food.

So you can just add these words to the beginning of the sentence.

So you can say for example, 駅はどこですか  えきはどこですか (eki-wa-doko-desu-ka) Where is the train station? (as for the train station, where is it?) As for the Eki where is it?

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