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So this is a total re-write of my question.

Outside of uses that include travel, walking, riding, driving, going or returning or any other form of travelling and moving;

What cases would it be appropriate to use へ vs に or に vs へ?

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    I don't know how accurate this is, but a professor once described it to me by saying that へ indicates a general direction whereas に indicates a specific destination... can someone confirm or refute this? – Kurausukun Feb 27 '18 at 17:35
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    To begin with, がっこうにいきます doesn’t mean “we are on our way to school.” It refers to a future event. – mamster Feb 27 '18 at 18:14
  • @mamster great info, how and why is that please? – Escoce Feb 27 '18 at 20:02
  • @mamster and thanks for the edits, I don't have a hiragana keyboard, or onboard IME. I was stuck using google. – Escoce Feb 27 '18 at 20:06
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The only difference is that へ can be combined with の like 学校への道 (a way to the school) while に can't.

Other than that, they don't have semantic difference. In contexts where it's accompanied with motion verbs like your examples, they don't specify which connotation it is as you assumed.

On the other hand, に has its inherent sense or feel, which makes us imagine that something attaches on the object. へ derives from a noun which means "side" and it focuses on direction rather than destination. So, if the verb in a sentence is left out, people tend to assume different verbs according to each particle. For example, 明日へ sounds like continuing to 向{む}かう while what I first associate with 明日に is 延{の}ばす. However, once the predicate is determined, that's another story.

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    There's a really interesting corpus-based paper about this in Usage-based Approaches to Japanese Grammar called Interchangeability of so-called interchangeable particles: Corpus analysis of spatial markers, Ni and E (Kaori Kabata 2014), which covers a survey of native speaker judgments, as well as corpus results from both speech and writing. – snailcar Feb 28 '18 at 14:39
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I've recently read a web manga called テストに出ない日本語の勉強 and it has an episode on this topic:

http://www.comico.jp/challenge/detail.nhn?titleNo=413&articleNo=3

According to it, is used in cases where the direction or goal is vague or undetermined, and when it is known where and why one is going, so it seems to confirm your guess.

  • It would be nice if downvoters explained what's wrong with my answer... – Igor Skochinsky Feb 28 '18 at 14:06
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    I'll explain instead of the downvoter. First, OP's guess is not correct, and even though the indefinite claim in the link is true, it doesn't lead to OP's interpretation. It would be "に feels conscious of what to do there" or so. However, it just feels that way and not necessarily so after all. – user4092 Feb 28 '18 at 15:26

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