Hand-drawn ryokan map, Kyoto, Japan, 1990

This is the map I drew of a district in Kyoto in 1990, a pre-internet, pre-smartphone age when (absent a guidebook) the only way I could ensure I’d find the route to my ryokan was to sketch out the local landmarks and street names.  My first trip to Japan — a revelation — had come five years earlier but the inexpertly drawn kanji on this map are a fair indication of my gift for the language, which I took for two years in university and found to be a daily humiliation.  At the end of my second year of study, the sensei explained that he would pass me — this was said in a tone of charity — but that I should think very hard about whether I really wanted to return for a third year.  As a consequence, however, I was not eligible to apply to a Japanese university for my junior year abroad as I’d intended and ended up in Singapore, where (not by chance) the language of instruction is English.

At that time, Singapore was a soft dictatorship leached of much of its vitality in which the principal human activity was shopping — for those who still think of Singapore this way, I can attest it was worse then — and thus, by any measure, a particularly ill-considered place for a junior-year abroad.  The legions of American students who didn’t over-think it and ended up in Barcelona or Paris or Rome were wise in ways I was not, but this is a measure of how much I wanted to return to Asia.  In fact, if I had gone to university in Kyoto I might never have left Asia, as happened to many others who fell in love with Japan.  Though I would return to Asia after Singapore to live in Hong Kong for a few years, my eyes had already begun to look to the horizon and, eventually, to the Middle East and Europe.  For that, I am grateful my kanji were not better.


One Response to “Hand-drawn ryokan map, Kyoto, Japan, 1990”

  1. chik says:

    Your penmanship is better than mine. It’s not much of a compliment to be honest, given my chicken scratch, but hey…

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