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Authors: Kobo Abe

The Ruined Map

Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe was born in Tokyo in 1924, grew up in Manchuria, and returned to Japan in his early twenties. In 1948 he received a medical degree from Tokyo Imperial University, but he never practiced medicine. Before his death in 1993, Abe was considered his country’s foremost living novelist, and was also widely known as a dramatist. His novels have earned many literary awards and prizes, and have all been bestsellers in Japan. They include
The Woman in the Dunes, Kangaroo Notebook, The Ark Sakura, The Face of Another, The Box Man
, and
Secret Rendezvous

Also by
Kobo Abe


Kangaroo Notebook

The Ark Sakura

Secret Rendezvous

The Box Man

The Face of Another

The Woman in the Dunes

Inter Ice Age 4


Beyond the Curve


Three Plays by Kobo Abe

: The ornaments and maps are by Robert Steele Wallace.


Copyright © 1969, copyright renewed 1997 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Japanese as
Moyetsukita chizu
by Shinchosha, Tokyo. Copyright © 1967, copyright renewed 1996 by Kobo Abe. This translation originally published in the United States in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1969.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Abe, Kobo 1924–
 [Moyetsukita chizu. English]
The ruined map / by Kobo Abe ; translated by E. Dale Saunders
299 p. 22 cm.
Translation of: Moyetsukita chizu.
I. Japan—Fiction.
PZ4.A13 Ru PL845.B4

eISBN: 978-0-307-81370-1


—a bounded infinity. A labyrinth where you are never lost. Your private map where every block bears exactly the same number.

Even if you lose your way, you cannot go wrong.


Particulars of request
: Ascertain the movements and whereabouts of the missing person.

: Nemuro Hiroshi.

: Male.

: 34.

: Section head for sales and expansion, Dainen Enterprises.

: The missing man is the applicant’s husband. No communication whatever since his disappearance six months ago. Everything necessary for the investigation will be made available.

I hereby make official application for investigation and enclose herewith the requisite fee. Furthermore, I swear to observe the strictest secrecy concerning all information, to make no disclosures, to make no abuse of any knowledge obtained


T— Detective Agency

Chief of Section for the
Signature of applicant

Investigation of Persons
                                Nemuro Haru


down the clutch and slipped the gear into low. The incline was a little too much for the light, twenty-horsepower car.

The surface of the street was not asphalt but a rough-textured concrete with narrow grooves about five inches apart, apparently to prevent slipping. But they did not look as though they would be much help to pedestrians. The purposely rough concrete surface was covered with dust and tire shavings, and on rainy days, even if one wore rubber-soled shoes, it would surely make for difficult walking. No doubt the pavement was made in this way for cars. If so, the grooves every five inches would be very effective. When the drainage of the street was obstructed by melting snow and sleet, they looked as though they would be useful in channeling the water into the gutters. Yet there were few cars, despite the trouble taken to build such a road. Since there were no sidewalks, four or five women carrying shopping baskets had spread out over the width of the street and were walking along completely absorbed in their chattering. I sounded the horn softly and passed through them. Then, instinctively, I jammed on the emergency brake. A young boy, perched on one roller skate and imitating a horn, sailed around the curve and came sliding down toward me.

On the left was a sharp rise with a high protective wall of stone blocks piled on top of each other. On the right was an almost perpendicular cliff, set off from the street by a minimally low guardrail and a ditch. I saw the drawn, pale face of the boy: he came sliding and tumbling down, as if he were holding the guardrail under his arm. My heart leapt thumping to my throat. I started to open the window with the thought of scolding the boy, but I flinched at the reproachful looks which the women cast at me. It would be easier to let him go on by, I supposed. It would be ridiculous if by agitating the women I found myself in the position of having to take responsibility for the boy’s bruises. Nothing would jeopardize my situation more than their trumping up some story against me. I had to be without blemish for the present, at least around here.

I stepped on the accelerator. The car barely moved, and there was the smell of burning rubber. Suddenly the curve was there. The colors of the women, clustered around the boy who had missed death with neither loss of blood nor broken bones, flew to the side of my rearview mirror, and clear sky appeared like the surface of a Braun tube after the picture has disappeared. The stretch of road was flat, and a small bus station lay in a wide space carved out of the hillside. There were benches with roofs to ward off the rain, a public telephone, and even a drinking fountain beside a brick enclosure that perhaps was a flower bed in summer. Only a short distance beyond the station the road rose sharply again. Immediately ahead stood a large signboard with a yellow background like a traffic sign:


Despite the firm style of the letters, which appeared to have been the work of a professional sign painter, I ignored the threat and drove rapidly up the remainder of the slope.

Suddenly the scenery changed, and a straight, white line of road stretched to a sky daubed with white. It was some thirty feet wide. Between it and the footpaths on either side lay a belt of withered lawn, contained by a knee-high fence. The perspective was strangely exaggerated, perhaps because the grass had withered unevenly, and I was struck with an optical illusion. It was as if I were looking at some patterned infinity: the four-storied buildings, identical in height, each floor with six doors, were lined up in rows of six to the right and left. Only the fronts of the buildings, facing the road, were painted white, and the color stood out against the darkish green of the sides, emphasizing even more the geometric character of the view. With the roadway as an axis, the housing development extended in two great wings, somewhat greater in width than in depth. Perhaps it was for the lighting, but as the buildings were laid out in staggered lines, on both sides one’s view met only white walls supporting a milk-white dome of sky.

An unattended child swathed in blankets in a red baby carriage was crying shrilly. A young boy on a bicycle made of some light alloy, which had a glittering transmission, gave a deliberate, boisterous laugh as he sped by, his cheeks rosy with the cold. It was all ordinary enough at first glance, but when one focused on the distant landscape, people seemed like fanciful reflections. Of course, if one were used to living here, I should imagine the viewpoint would be quite the opposite. The view became fainter and fainter, transparent almost to the point of extinction, and only my face emerged like a picture printed from a negative. I had had enough of
distinguishing myself. For this human filing cabinet with its endless filing-card apartments was merely the glass frame, each encasing its own family portraits.

12 East 3. East stands for the right side of the street, 3 for the third building from the front, facing the street, 12 for the second-floor apartment facing the landing at the left end. In the spaces between the blocks of lawn stood No Entry and No Parking signs, but cars were parked in front of the buildings. My luggage consisted of one small case containing a set of miniature equipment. The case was a foot and a half long, a foot wide, and something less than eight inches thick. The surface was flat and hard and served at times as a desk. In the end of the handle were hidden a mike and a switch with which one could start the tape recorder from the outside; other than that, it was a quite ordinary case. It was made of a nappy artificial leather that gave the feeling of being rather worn. Showy metal fittings had been added to the four corners. Anyway, it looked like nothing more than a traveling salesman’s bag. Its appearance was useful for my purposes, but an inconvenience too.

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