Several meanings of 前 and 後


Hello there!
A little thing I wanna ask if you don’t mind…
I have a problem with 前 and 後. Okay, one means front and the other behind. I get it… But I don’t get why 前 means also before. What is in front of me is the future, not the past, right? And 後 is supposed to be behind, how come it’s also after? There’s a logic there I don’t get… Do you have an explanation or is it just something I have to memorize?

Thank you!


When used to talk about time, it’s more about what comes first on the timeline from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine the events are queued up in a line and you’re the cashier serving them. Whichever one’s at the front (前) gets served before the others.


Pretty good explanation! Thank you.
I will definitively use this cashier image! :grinning:


I think it is pretty interesting the way Japanese use the words 前 and 後 and it tells us a lot of the perception of time they have and how different it is from our western perspective.


It’s the same in english, and probably many other languages.


  1. previous to; earlier or sooner than
  2. in front of; ahead of; in advance of

Interestingly enough, before can also denote the future:

  1. ahead of; in the future of; awaiting

I wonder what that says about our western perspective.


Thank you for the cashier’s perspective! Before reading your solution, I was struggling to understand how it works. I mean, when using a.m. and p.m., I imagine myself at “noon” with a.m. behind me and p.m. ahead of me. But, when I came across certain program that uses same characters for “back” and “next”, it was backward (at least to me at first) so I was really confused! Putting myself outside of the timeline and looking at past as a starting point. A.M. gets served first before P.M. That helps me a lot (finally!)