Directions in Japanese

A quick kanji lesson.

Here are a few kanji showing various directions in Japanese. Learn these useful characters when asking for directions or looking at a map. Only the most used readings are given.

On: ジョウ
Kun: うえ

Meaning: up; above

  • 上手(じょうず) skilled; good at; clever
  • 上着(うわぎ) coat; outer garment
  • その上(うえ)  in addition; furthermore

On: ゲ
Kun: した

Meaning: down; below

  • 靴下(くつした) socks [lit. shoes under]
  • 地下(ちか) underground; basement
  • 年下(としした) junior; younger; young

On: サ
Kun: ひだり

Meaning: left

  • 左手(ひだりて) left hand
  • 左足(ひだりあし) left leg
  • 机の左 (つくえ  ひだり )to the left of the desk

On: ユウ
Kun: みぎ

Meaning: right

  • 右目(みぎめ) right eye
  • 右(みぎ)ページ right page (of a book)
  • 右手(みぎて) right hand

On: ゼン
Kun: まえ

Meaning: before; in front; previous

  • 名前(なまえ) name
  • 前書(まえが)き preface [lit. before the writing]
  • 二年前(ふたねんまえ) two years ago

On: ゴ
Kun: うし・ろ

Meaning: behind; after

  • 最後(さいご) the last; the end; conclusion
  • 後(うし)ろ behind
  • 後書(あとが)き postscript; afterword [lit. after the writing]

On: トウ
Kun: ひがし

Meaning: east

  • 中東(ちゅうとう) the Middle East
  • 東(ひがし)アジア East Asia
  • 東京 (とうきょう )Tokyo

You may recognize the kanji for “east” 東 higashi in Tokyo
東京 toukyou. This is because Tokyo means “east capital.”

Nearly all kanji have at least two readings. In this case, 東 can be pronounced higashi or tou. The first, higashi, is the native Japanese pronunciation, or kun reading. Tou is the Chinese or on reading.

In general, when a kanji character is paired with another kanji, you use the on reading as in toukyou.


On: セイ
Kun: にし

Meaning: west

  • 西口(にしぐち) west entrance
  • 関西(かんさい) Osaka and surrounding area; Kansai
  • 西(にし)ドイツ (historical) West Germany
  • 大西洋(たいせいよう) the Atlantic

On: ナン
Kun: みなみ

Meaning: south

  • 東南(とうなん)アジア Southeast Asia
  • 南極(なんきょく) the South Pole; Antarctic
  • 南米(なんべい) South America

On: ホク
Kun: きた

Meaning: north

  • 北海道(ほっかいどう) Hokkaido (most northern part of Japan)
  • 北(きた)アメリカ North America
  • 北京(ぺきん) Beijing (China)
  • 南北戦争(なんぼくせんそう) the (US) Civil War

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