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このたなの一番おくの方にございます。

  • They are at the far end of this shelf.

This is an example sentence from one of my textbooks but I don't understand what おく means and I'm a bit confused on the use of 方 as well, especially when looking at the translation.

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奥{おく} is the part far away from the "entrance" of a thing, so it could be translated by bottom or back for example depending of the type of object (e.g. a vase or a room). Or end in the case of a shelf ; it will most likely refer to the part the farther from the speaker / listener in this case. So 一番{いちばん}おく would indeed be the far end of the shelf here.

What does の方{ほう} add then ?? の方{ほう} can indicate a direction, as in 奥{おく}の方{ほう}へお進{すす}みください (please proceed _towards_ the back), but can also be used to refer to an area or more generally a thing in a vague manner. I think the sentence could also be translated to They are _towards_ the far end of this shelf. It doesn't make a big difference though and I guess that's why it is omitted in your textbook translation. It could also be omitted in Japanese, 一番{いちばん}おくにございます is perfectly valid but in this case it really refers to a precise location and you wouldn't expect to find anything after it (meaning they're the last items on the shelf).


Note: の方{ほう} being used to refer vaguely to things, leads to some people abusing it in an attempt to sound less "harsh" (intending to be more polite). You may hear it a lot in some restaurants for example. It doesn't add any meaning more than making the statement generally more ambiguous though, and is considered poor style.

  • Considering the context of the sentence: a store assistant directing a customer to an item, this use of の方 to sound more polite makes complete sense then. – Mononoke Sep 7 '14 at 18:38
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    In this case, especially since it's taken from a text book, I guess the far end isn't the exact position of the items and の方 serves to indicate the direction or at least an approximate position (which is more or less the same). My note was referring to some people abusing this expression and using it even when designing very precise things ; for example メニューのほう、お下{さ}げいたします。 (roughly let me remove the menus), where の方 is completely useless and even wrong. I think you can ignore this (wrong) usage of the word for now, you shouldn't encounter it in a text book anyway. – desseim Sep 7 '14 at 23:11
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おく means the interior of something but is often used to mean "in the back". This is the use of 方 (ほう) meaning a direction. So put together you get something like "toward the deepest" part of the shelf, which you textbook has chosen to express as the "far end".

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