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Asking for Distances in Japanese

written by: Makoto • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Ever wondered how to ask, “How long does it take to get to ‘X’ or ‘Y’" in Japanese? This article explains in simple and clear terms how to proceed in doing so.

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    How Useful Is it?

    Every once in a while, we all have to go somewhere but are unsure as to how far exactly that location is. We want to know if it is too far to walk there or if driving a car would be necessary. This is also something we ask when traveling somewhere in order to plan our journey.

    This article will explain a simple sentence pattern to find out just how long it would take to get from point A to point B. You are most likely to use the pattern once in Japan. Fortunately, it is quite simple to understand.

    It is recommended that you have a basic understanding of Japanese particles and verbs before reading this article, as this will not be explained here.

    Note: Keep in mind that there is more than one way of asking questions about distances and this article will only explore one of the possible patterns.

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    Kara (から) and Made (まで)

    Kara and made are two noun-following particles you will need to use when asking about how long it takes to get to a certain place. They can be roughly interpreted as from (for kara) and to (for made).

    Before actually going any further about the sentence pattern you will want to learn, let’s introduce three different locations that we will use in our examples. I have written the three places in three different ways, depending on your level. The first writing is in Kanji, the second in hiragana and the third in romaji.

    銀行:きんこう:ginkou: bank

    図書館:としょかん:toshokan: library

    郵便局:ゆうびんきょく:yuubinkyoku: post office

    We will just stick to those three locations for this article, as introducing too many words would end up being counterproductive, as the objective here is not to learn new vocabulary about places.

    As mentioned in the first paragraph, kara and made are noun-following particles which means they should come after the nouns. Let’s demonstrate their use with a clear and simple example.

    Imagine for a minute that you wish to know how long it would take to get to the bank from the library. In this example, your starting point is the library and your destination is the bank. All you need to do is to put kara after your starting point and made after your destination.


    It is that simple. Let’s use another example just to make sure. Say you would like to know how long it would to get from the post office to the library. This time around, the post office is your starting point and the library is your destination.


    As long as you remember that kara (from) should come after your starting point and that made (to) should come after your destination, asking for distances will be a breeze.

    This is just the beginning of the sentence pattern however. Read the next section to figure out how to proceed from there.

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    On Foot? By Train? By Car?

    Now that you have established how to structure your sentence properly in regards to locations, how do you specify how long it would take by using a specific means of transportation?

    Once again, before going any further in the sentence pattern, let’s introduce three different types of locomotion.

    自転車:じてんしゃ:jitensha: bicycle

    電車 : でんしゃ:densha: train

    徒歩:とほ:toho: on foot

    As you already know, particles give you information about what precedes them. In this case, we will use the particle . One usage of the particle で is to explain how something is done, in which manner.

    Once you have identified your starting point and your destination, identify the type of locomotion you would like to use followed by the particle で。

    Slightly confused? No worries. Let’s continue our previous example to clear things up.

    As we have said before, you would like to get to the bank from the library. Suppose you are riding your bicycle so you would like to know how long it would take to ride your bike over there.

    To sum things up: the library is your starting point, the bank is your destination and you would like to use a bicycle:


    What about if you wanted to walk over there?


    It is no more complicated than that. Let’s now move to the final part of your sentence. It’s almost over!

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    Finishing Your Sentence

    We have now explained how to identify your locations and how to specify in which way you would like to get there. All we need now is to specify the question, add a verb (a sentence wouldn’t be complete without a verb) and turn our sentence into a question.

    You have now identified both locations, specified the means of locomotion and now comes the time to ask the actual question. どのぐらい This is what you will want to use next in Japanese, and can mean how long, how far or how much, depending on the context. .

    Let us return to our example.


    As you might know, verbs come at the end of a sentence in Japanese. The proper verb to use when asking how long it takes to go from one place to another is かかります(masu form)、which means to take, to require, to cost. This is what comes next.

    Once again, back to our example:


    Finally, turning a normal, affirmative sentence into an interrogative sentence is simple in Japanese. All you need is add the particle at the very end of your sentence.

    So there you go! That is all you need to remember. Let's check out the final result:


    “How long does it take to get to the bank from the library on foot?"

    Using the three different locations and the three different means of transportation, try to make different questions to acquire a firm understanding of the sentence pattern.