Some Things Are Just Too Difficult – Like Geography

The idea for this post initially came in Japanese, which you can read below.  The English version adds more American flavor.


I like history, but not necessarily social science.  I don’t particularly care for Geography and predictably I’m not particularly good at it.

I find it appalling that 1/3 of Americans can’t identify China on an unmarked world map, but then, I’m in no position to critique.  I took a mini Japanese Geography quiz at juku, my Japanese cram school, back in middle school.  I was given an unmarked map of Japan and told to fill in the states (or prefectures as they’re called in Japan).  That I didn’t do well was perfectly consistent with my daily performance so that part wasn’t particularly memorable.  What I got from that experience, though, was the appreciation for how difficult the task is.

Consider, you really need to have two knowledge to complete this task.  First, you need to know where the states are located.  This knowledge is somewhat easier in the United States where (Western) states are huge blocks of land with relatively distinctive shapes.  For example, you’ll never confuse California with Nevada or Idaho with Montana.  Sure, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all look like standard lego blocks, Wyoming and Montana sort of blur together and Washington and Oregon appear interchangeable, but in general, you should be able to take an educated guess about which states are where.

In Japan, locating the prefectures is much more difficult.  A country smaller than the state of California carved itself into 47 prefectures.  Not surprisingly, they’re all as small as goldfish shit and they all look like it too.  Distinguishing themselves neither in shape nor size, you can’t blame me for being able to properly locate only three prefectures:  Hokkaido, which is a huge bloc of island in the North; Aomori, the prefecture immediately to the south of Hokkaido; and Okinawa, an island even a nincompoop can locate because, like Hawai’i, it’s always presented in a small box due to its geographic isolation.

But alas, location is only half the test.  Next you must be able to correctly write the name of the state or prefecture.  This task is also much easier in English, where sounding out the name gets you fairly close to the correct spelling.  In Japanese, you need to know the Chinese characters, and that’s a black and white question of “Do you know or don’t know?”  I didn’t.  Can you write 沖縄?I sure couldn’t, and still can’t.  I may have known where Okinawa was, but that didn’t help me in the least.

What is the morale of this story, in which I ended up scoring only 4%, correctly locating and filling in the name of  2 of the 47 prefectures?

That some tasks are just too difficult and you might as well throw your hands up, give in and say uncle.

I sure have.

It’s been 10 years, and I doubt I can do any better if I took the same quiz again.





1) 都道府県の位置を知らなければならない。この面では、日本の都道府県地理テストは特に難しい。カルフォニアよりちっぽけな国が、アメリカの州の数と大して変わらない47の犬の糞の大きさの都道府県に区切られているのだから、覚えられるほうが奇跡である。ニュージャージーで家庭教師をしていた家族は愛媛県出身だったのだが、ご主人がなんと愛媛県はニュージャージー州のバーゲン郡より狭いということを教えてくださった。ただでさえ広くないニュージャージーの一部に過ぎないバーゲン郡より小さい県など、さっさと2-3県と統合したほうがいい。 

2) 都道府県の名を正しくかけなければならない。沖縄ぐらいどこにあるか知っていたが、当然のことながら漢字が書けなかった。




4 Responses to “Some Things Are Just Too Difficult – Like Geography”

  1. 1 Jay June 22, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Joe’s lesson of this post: Give up when things are too hard.

    • 2 joesas June 23, 2009 at 12:48 am

      Oh contraire, mon ami. I merely said “sometimes” give up when things are too hard.

  2. 3 Ray June 25, 2009 at 1:21 am





  3. 4 joesas June 25, 2009 at 8:13 pm





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