If you get lost in Japan
One of the many things that are great about Japan is how Japanese people are helpful. Every foreigner in Japan has experienced having had to ask their way and then have the Japanese person literally take them to the place. Whether you ask at a “conbini” (convenient store), a restaurant, a shop or, really, wherever (it so happens that a “depato” (department store) clerk sometimes takes the elevator down to the street level), the employee may go and lead you to your destination (provided it is in walking distance, of course). That’s an amazing way to feel welcome in Japan. And very common. Then again, if you cannot speak Japanese at all, asking you way may lead to … nowhere. Japanese people are often very shy, not to mention when they have to speak English. Although the Japanese education system comprises English class (starting in Elementary school), although Japanese employ a limitless number of English words in their daily life, when it comes to speaking, this is another story. Words may not come out easily. So brace yourself for some difficult communication. If you are patient enough, though, it will work out fine eventually.
Now, here is some “survival” vocabulary (for total beginners only – if you know at least basic Japanese, skip to the video at the bottom of this page) on how to ask your way in Japanese. Make sure to watch the video at the very bottom for an illustration on how Japanese people react when they are asked for direction by a gaikokujin :-).
First, when approaching someone, always start with “Sumimasen” (equivalent of “Excuse-me/Pardon-me”)
えき は どこ ですか Eki wa doko desuka? –> Where the train station is?
とおい/ちかい です か Tōī/Chikai desu ka? –> Is it far/near?
とおい/ちかい です Tōī/Chikai desu –> It’s far/near
とおくない/ちかくない です Tōkunai/Chikakunai desu –> It’s not far/near
ひだり (へ) Hidari (-e) –> (To the) Left
みぎ (へ) Migi (-e) –> (To the) Right
まっすぐ Massugu –> Straight
かど を まがって Kado o magate –> Around the corner
つぎのとおり を みぎ/ひだり へ Tsugi no tōri o migi/hidari-e –> The next street to the right/left
となりに Tonari ni –> Next to
まえに Mae ni –> In front of
みち/とおり Michi / Tōri –> The street
ショッピング センター Shoppingu sentā –> The shopping centre
こうばん Kōban –> The police station
びょういん Byōin –> The hospital
こうえん Kōen –> The park
トイレ Toire –> The restrooms
And now, on to this funny video about Japanese being asked directions by foreigners: