Annai refers to the giving of directions or information. Because it is a service, it is most often seen in the honorific form go-annai out of politeness and respect towards the customer.
Annai is a Chinese compound (on-reading) that is normally written in the Chinese characters , as seen below:
Somewhat surprisingly, go-annai can also be seen in hiragana, as :
By dispensing with Chinese characters, which have a certain stiff, official air about them, hiragana presumably makes the information desks less forbidding and more approachable to customers.
A Google search in August 2003 revealed the following pattern of usage on the Internet:
The overwhelmingly prevalent form is , with the honorific go- in hiragana and annai in characters. There is still, however, a minority tendency to write go- in characters as , a hangover from older days when kanji usage was much more prevalent. The hiragana form that we saw above is found only in a small minority of cases.