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What with the permanently overcast sky, I was able to wander around for the first day or two without even knowing which way was north. I knew where the train station was, and I knew which train to take to get to the other train station, but I didn't know which direction the train went … or which direction Tokyo was, for that matter.

So, naturally, I went out and bought a map. I'd like to acknowledge, here, that maps are one of the great inventions of all time. I suppose there are still people, somewhere, who go through life without ever seeing a map, but I can hardly imagine what that's like. Maps are a fundamental part of my experience, and it was very disturbing not to have one in mind.

Anyway, as I said, I went out and bought a map, an excellent and amazingly detailed map of Fuchu city. To give an idea of how detailed the map is, it has a dot representing the hotel we stayed in, along with some rectangles showing which parts of which blocks it occupies, and it has another dot representing the 7-11 across the street. It shows all the streets, with all their different widths; it shows rail lines and bus routes; and it shows the paths in the parks and the little islands in the river.

One reason for all the detail, I think, is that Japan doesn't have street addresses; in fact, most of the streets don't even have names! Instead, each city is divided into districts, which are divided into numbered areas, which in turn are divided into numbered blocks … a nice hierarchical arrangement, to be sure. So, for example, the address of the NEC campus is Nisshin-cho 1-10, and if you want to know where that is, well, you just have to ask, or get a map.

It's also possible that you could find a map—there are a lot of big public signs displaying local maps. Unfortunately, if there's a system for finding the nearest sign, I never figured out what it was.

Here are a few other random thoughts about the map.

  • The map was entirely in Japanese, but I was able to make good use of it knowing just the alphabetic characters (hiragana and katakana) plus a few of the symbolic characters (kanji), such as the ones for Fuchu.
  • I'm not sure that “district” and “area” are the standard translations, so don't go and memorize them or anything.
  • Fuchu has about fifty districts. On the map, each district is a different (pastel) color, so the whole map is quite pretty to look at.
  • A few of the major streets do have names; strangely (to me), so do most of the major intersections.

I was so pleased with the first map, I went out and bought another—this time, a map of the entire Tokyo metro area. This map came in the form of a little book, four by six inches and about a quarter inch thick. One pair of facing pages shows Fuchu, in less detail of course; other pages show other cities, or show more detail for areas of interest. As another example of detail, the maps for the major train stations seem to show individual turnstiles.

Perhaps the best thing about the Tokyo map is that it contains some diagrams of the rail network, a huge interconnected tangle of different-colored lines.


  See Also

  Visit to Japan, A

@ October (2001)