Often Japanese particles can be combined, with this example of 4 particles sandwiched together (ならではの) one of the most extreme cases.
Usually the meaning of combining two or more particles can be partially guessed by thinking of it as a sum of the meanings of each particle, but there is often some extra nuance that creeps in. Also, many particles have more than one meaning so it may be tricky to figure out which of the meanings is being used in the combination.
Today I’m going to go over the particle combination “への”, which is roughly the combination of the particles へ plus の.
”へ” is used to refer to a direction of something, which is often a physical direction. When used as a particle, へ is pronounced like え. To give a simple example sentence:
- I want to go to the movie theater.
For this usage、に can generally replace へ with no change in meaning.
“の” has many meanings, but the one we are concerned with is when it acts to describe something. It can be used to describe ownership of something, or simply turn a noun into an adjective. Here is an example of each.
- My beer
- A science book (or “A book about science”)
When combining these two particles as “への”, we end up with describing one word (the word after the の) using the direction towards something else (the word before the へ). Since this explanation is a bit hard to follow, let’s just see an example sentence.
- I’m looking forward to my trip to Japan.
Here the “日本への” (to Japan) is modifying the “旅行” (trip) to produce “trip to Japan”.
But do you really need the “へ” here? Actually, I would argue this sentence is even clearer without this.
- I’m looking forward to my Japan trip
I think the reason the basic の is more natural is because it’s clear what this means. への seems to be used more commonly when there is some ambiguity. Actually, in this case you can even omit the の and just say “日本旅行”.
Let’s look at another example.
- The expectations for the new game are high (lit: “strong”).
Here the direction actually relates to feelings, the ‘direction’ of expectations. You could say this in a more lengthy way as “ゲームに対する期待”.
It’s interesting to note that using へ is typically not used for verbs like 期待 (expect), and the phrase “ゲームへ期待してる” sounds unnatural. に would be the proper choice here. However, “にの” is not a valid particle combination. Ironically, に has a wider set of uses than へ, for example you can say “僕には分かる”, but you wouldn’t say “僕へは分かる”.
Back to the previous example sentence. You could try it without the へ、for example:
- The expectations of the new game are high.
Here I would say that there is a little ambiguity, since the expectations could be “for the game” or “from the game” (the latter meaning the game is expecting something). For this reason I think it’s safe to use への, though this particle combination doesn’t seem to be used much in everyday conversation. It’s more of something you would hear in a newscast.
Similarly, the phrase “友達へのプレゼント” specifically indicates a present for a friend, white the phrase “友達のプレゼント” has a bit more uncertainty, since it can mean the present possessed by a friend. As usual, content is king and determines what is most natural for a given situation. If you’re speaking normal day-to-day Japanese, I think you’ll be fine with the basic の version (second sentence above).