It’s been about a year now since I accepted my teaching position here in Japan, and about 10 months since I began learning Japanese. I endeavored, first, to master the writing system – at the time, I thought this consisted mainly of hiragana and katakana; kanji, as it was explained on the website, seemed superfluous. Back in October, I set about to learning the Japanese syllabaries while at my office, using their high speed internet to download the charts, and, on the back of work assignments, tried my hand at writing the characters myself while wolfing down a Teriyaki Boy curry and sushi combo platter. My hands shook, my brow trembled and my end results looked nearly nothing like the examples. At the time, I could never imagine drawing the characters fluidly.

In August of 2007, I draw the characters fluidly, if without grace. My hiragana and katakana books taught me the correct order but, just as my students do when I show them how to write the alphabet, I abandoned it long ago in favor of what felt comfortable. At lunch with Yoko-san and her husband-san, I traced the character for the particle ‘wo‘ on the table (for reasons I have forgotten) and they giggled because my strokes seemed so random.

“Top to bottom,” instructs Sean – whose Japanese script and kanji are practically art. “Left to right,” he says, while surveying my work as I try to draw some kanji – the symbol for ‘flower,’ the symbol for ‘sky.’

“No.” he says. “What … what are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Top to bottom, left to right!” He takes the pencil and proceeds to draw a series of gorgeous kanji, almost without looking.Well, la dee da.

On the train, during one of my seemingly endless commutes, I (for fun) traced the latin alphabet on the arm rest. I was somewhat surprised to note that I actually write my letters top to bottom and left to right.

Since apparently top to bottom, left to right is ingrained in me after all, I sometimes try it when I write hiragana or katakana. But my writing is still like a child’s.

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