Can you use へ and に interchangeably, as in:



北海道行く ?

Are there any subtle differences in the use of these two?

  • 1
    I was told by my teacher that whenever I am unsure which to use I should go with に.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 8:48

8 Answers 8


The confusion comes from the fact that in English we often translate these simply as "to"; they do, however, emphasize different spatial aspects of an action:

  • に emphasizes the location. This is sort of the basic one you'll use for "person A goes to location X":

東京に行った → "I went to Tokyo."

  • へ emphasizes the direction, and you'll often see it on signage indicating the direction that a train line heads:

"東京へ" → "to/towards Tokyo," probably with other stops on the way. You can also use it interchangeably with に in the previous example sentence, but now with an emphasis on the direction.

東京(の方)へ行った → "I went to/towards Tokyo."

  • まで emphasizes the process or journey, where the specified location is a stopping point. You could translate it as "all the way to" or "as far as":

東京まで行った → "I went to Tokyo (and that's where my journey ended)."

If you want to think of it geometrically, に specifies a point (the destination), へ specifies the direction of an arrow, and まで refers to a line segment between the start and end points.

  • 4
    +1 for mentioning まで too.
    – Amanda S
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:54
  • I'm pretty sure the first two are backwards. に is the direction and へ is the definite final location. Ex: 学校に行く - I'm going to (head toward) school (but I may get sidetracked along the way). 学校へ行く - I'm going, and will end up at school and nowhere else
    – istrasci
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 0:18
  • 6
    I was told まで means "until" and thus would be about the destination...? Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 9:18
  • 1
    Re: まで: Concurring with flamingspinach, the point indicated by まで is not necessarily the final destination: 東京駅まで電車で行って、地下鉄に乗り換えた。. Also, when showing a destination in this manner, まで is better for action verbs such as 歩く, 走る, 泳ぐ, etc. (駅まで走る rather than 駅に走る or 駅へ走る.) Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 19:03
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    @Pacerier: I think Amanda has the better answer to this question: に for focusing on the destination and へ for focusing on the process/journey. In my answer to the question you linked, I state that まで focuses on the distance traveled, so I have to say Nate's answer seems a little off to me here. Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 12:34

There is a very subtle difference between the two--with に, the destination is more important; with へ, the journey is more important. You might use に if you want to say you're going "to the store" and へ if you want to say you're going "in the direction of the store [and ending up there]."

Is there a lot of practical difference in how they are used? Not really.


Side note to the question but relevant:

Use only へ when you want to use the grammatical construct 〜への〜.

◯ 改札口への階段はどこですか。 Where are the steps to the ticket gate?

× 改札口にの階段はどこですか。


On a pedantic note, there is an old saying the goes like

京へ、筑紫に、坂東さ (ca 1609)

京に、つくしへ、坂東さ (ca 1496)


which shows how each dialect used different particle to say 北海道○行く around that time. 京 is for Kyoto, 筑紫(つくし) is Kyushu and 坂東 is Kanto/Tohoku.

Being just a layperson on Japanese linguistics, I'll just stop here, but I'm sure a more learned person will have a lot to say about why the place of に and へ are different between the two quotes above, and how these regional differences came about.


I've always seen に as meaning going somewhere directly without any intention of stopping, whereas へ shows that they are going that way, but if they see something interesting they may stop or make a detour.


Those 2 threads asking the same question should be merged and maybe become wiki to be edited easily (particles questions are recurrent)

see also: How to use へ (-e), に (-ni), まで (made) and の方 (no-hō) with destination and direction?

To sum up and try to correct some of the answers already given:

-へ is the direction particle. You could say it focuses on the journey

-に is the destination particle. It focuses on the destination.

-まで Is a final destination particle as well but implies that you're coming from somewhere (から) and thus that there's some distance between the 2 points.

-のほう(の方) means in the direction of. It could be used in a case where you are giving direction to someone:


(walk 300m towards the post office and you will see the middle school on your right)

  • 5
    Not relevant to the topic of the question, but: in the last example, a more natural sentence is 郵便局の方へ300メートル歩くと、中学が右に見えます。 (1) 歩いて is unnatural in this sentence and should be 歩くと, but I cannot explain why. (2) 歩く is usually written with kanji unless it is written for foreign speakers and/or small kids who do not read kanji, in which case 郵便局 should be avoided first. Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 22:42

へ is the direction に is the purpose

When I say デパートへ行きます, I am just heading towards the department store. When I say デパートに行きます, I am going to the department store with a purpose. The department store is the location where I will complete my purpose.

It is the same as saying 買い物に行きます or 仕事に行きます Shopping and work are not physical places but merely activities or purposes in this sentence. に cannot be replaced by へ in that case.

But when we are speaking about a location, we could either used へ or に as we usually go to a place with a purpose. Japanese people tend to never use へ in a conversation but rather に


へ is also used to soften に in some cases, since it's slightly more vague. For instance, at a restaurant I saw a sign posted over a counter that used something like 「こちらへ食器をお返し下さい」.

  • "こちらへ" just means "this way, this direction", that doesn't soften anything ;) just shows you a direction
    – repecmps
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 10:39
  • my suspicion was that に would have been just as fitting in this example, but would also seem more direct Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 9:59
  • 1
    This is not relevant to the topic of the question, but お返して下さい is incorrect. It should be either お返し下さい or 返して下さい, the former being more polite. Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 22:43

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