Column: 11

2D Ginza Shopping District

A city where everybody gets lost and makes side trips


Here in the Dementia World, there is a mysterious shopping district where you lose your senses of direction and distance. No matter how many times you visit it, you are certain to get lost and end up making side trips. The scenery can appear as a two-dimensional painting. East can suddenly become west, your sense of depth can disappear, and you might lose your ability to see signposts that are surely there. Strange things will keep happening. Also, as the city is two-dimensional, no bird’s eye map can help you check where you and your destination are. There, everybody takes time to appreciate the scenery, enjoy side trips or unexpected encounters, receive help from people in the city, and slowly yet surely make it to their destinations.

Many people can’t read maps. Nowadays, we have navigation apps on our smartphones, but some of us still end up going in the wrong direction and wandering back and forth. We can lose our sense of direction when we go up from the basement to the ground floor, too. Some people are innately bad at reading maps, while others tend to get lost easily. Clearly, senses of direction and distance vary from person to person, and anybody can make mistakes when tired or short on sleep.

One day, I left home alone to go to my usual hairdresser located one train station away. I took the same train as always and arrived at the station. However, I could not tell which direction I should walk from there.*1 I decided to check the map that I found at the station. On the map, I could see that my current location is here and that the department store is over there. I glanced back and forth between the map and the scenery, but they never got linked in my head.*2

These days, I often find it difficult to read maps. To avoid getting lost, I use my smartphone to look up how to get to my destination in advance and take a screenshot. Even with a screenshot, I found myself in trouble when I arrived at a large station the other day. My smartphone was telling me to “take the A7 exit and walk straight.” I looked around and found a sign that said “A7↑.” Thinking back carefully, I can now tell “↑” means “walk straight.” On the day at the station, however, the arrow was only pointing to the ceiling.*2 “What does that mean? What should I do?” I looked around and saw a diagonal arrow pointing up (“↗”) this time. “What does going up diagonally mean?”*2 I got even more confused. Feeling as if I would never be able to get out of the station, I started to get restless. Just then, a kind woman passing by asked me, “Is something wrong?” She guided me to the A7 exit.

On another occasion, I went to a large shopping center in my neighborhood. Having the urge to go to the bathroom, I quickly looked around for a bathroom sign but did not see one.*3 As I wandered around the same area many times, however, the sign suddenly jumped into my field of vision. I had walked past that spot many times, so I don’t know why I didn’t find the sign sooner. Until the sign suddenly appeared before my eyes, I could not see it no matter how desperately I searched for it.

Come to think of it, I usually drive to the shopping center, and the parking lot is a pain, too. It’s really hard to park my car in spaces marked out in white paint. How far should I go in the parking space before I stop the car?*4 Have I kept an equal amount of distance between my car and the cars on both sides?*5 Which direction do I turn the steering wheel?*1 I get confused on all these points. Also, when driving, it has become increasingly difficult for me to judge the distance between my car and the car in front of me, so I try to keep as much distance as possible.*5 Only recently, I purchased a semi-autonomous car which manages following distance, brakes automatically, and has parking support functions. Driving has become much easier.

I have had a rather shocking experience recently, as well: although I have been using the same route for years, I got lost on my way to work. I was walking from the station toward the office and noticed that a bridal shop I always see was no longer there. I later realized I had only missed the sight of the wedding dress in the show window because the shutter of the shop was closed. However, that day, this tiny change gave me an extremely strange feeling and I stopped walking.*6 I looked around carefully to check where I was and started to feel nervous. Was there a store like this here? Was this street this narrow?*7 Does this road really take me to my office? Gradually, I started to think that I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere*8 and stood there in confusion. Luckily, a colleague who happened to be walking behind me started talking to me, and I was saved.

I made my own photographic map with my family a short while ago. We walked together to places I regularly visit, such as my office, home, and doctor’s office. We took a lot of photos as we walked. Later, we printed them out on a large sheet of paper and pasted signs and memos on it.

With that map, I can arrive at my destinations alone by comparing things that I see in the scenery, such as buildings, with photos on the map. If I get lost, I can show the map to people and ask for help. I enjoy testing new ideas like this to make gradual improvements in the way I navigate this city.


When people with dementia enter the "2D Ginza Shopping District",
the following 8 mental and physical dysfunctions might be at play.