You might get lost in Japan (actually you probably will get lost) and not all Japanese people know English (in fact hardly any do), so it’s always helpful to be able to ask for and understand directions.
Who should I ask?
If you try to ask just anyone on the street they will probably not understand you or brush you off and run away. Some of the best people to ask for directions are people in convenience stores, post office staff, policemen, and train station staff. These people are unlikely to be able to speak English though, so you might need to ask them in broken Japanese and trust on hand gestures (which work most of the time).
If you’re too scared about asking in Japanese or not being understood then you should try a large train station where they will likely have tourist information and someone who speaks some English. They will often have maps and guides of the local area in English as well.
What should I say?
If you do get stuck and want to ask someone in Japanese where something is the simplest sentence to use is:
sumimasen, _____ wa doko desu ka? = excuse me, where is the ______?
Useful places to ask directions for:
train station = eki
bank = ginkou
convenience store = konbini
toilet = otoire OR otearai
police station = koban
This is a handy little video explaining how to ask for directions when visiting Japan:
How will I understand their response?
I mentioned that most Japanese people won’t be able to speak English but you can get by with hand gestures and maps. Like in this video!
But there are some key words you should listen out for when people are giving direction, although you can guess this by their hand gestures it also helps to confirm them by understanding a few words.
left = hidari
right = migi
straight = masugu
in front = mae
behind = ushiro
traffic lights = shingo
corner = mado
This video can help you with these basic directions:
Just like in this video, when you learn verbs like “to turn” you will often get them in the “dictionary form”, which is the basic form of the word, but this isn’t how Japanese people will naturally say it when talking to you. They will normally break up the sentence into the following way:
Go straight, then turn left at the lights. It will be on the right. = masugu ni i-te, shingo ni maga-te, migi ni aru.
The words underlined above are the verbs mentioned in the video, but when you list a series of instructions in Japanese the verb changes from a “ru” sound to a “te” sound. This might seem a bit complicated at first but if you want to learn more Japanese language beyond the basics then this will be something you pick up on. Otherwise it’s best to listen out to the few useful words.
If you would like to learn more complicated yet natural ways to ask for and understand directions I suggest the follow video: (Asking/Giving Directions) Japanese Conversation Lesson 5 by fluentjapanese