This is nothing to boast about, but I can say with total certainty that my handwriting is horrible. When I was a rookie reporter, a disgusted senior colleague told me to practice my penmanship. But I didn't.

One time, someone I was interviewing took a peek at my notebook and marveled, "Wow. You write in shorthand?"

I was only scribbling away in a hurry.

My life has become much easier in this digital era. But when I have to handwrite something like a thank-you note, that's a different story. The task daunts me.

That's why I feel relieved--as disrespectful as this is--to discover that someone I always held in high esteem had dreadful handwriting.

I learned recently that Kumagusu Minakata (1867-1941), a giant of natural history, was decidedly in that category.

Calling his own handwriting "peerlessly horrific," Minakata once lamented in a letter, "I copy passages from copious research materials. But to my distress, I often cannot decipher my notes when I go over them later."

Perhaps his hand could not catch up with his insatiable curiosity.

Minakata apparently is also a source of distress to scholars researching him.

Kazuya Sugiyama notes in his book that Minakata's handwriting is small and near-illegible, the latter often due to his writing away even after the tip of his writing brush has become split. There still are many manuscripts that have yet to be deciphered, according to Sugiyama.

Minakata should be "honored" for his historically atrocious scrawl that spanned centuries.

In his book "Ji ga Kitanai!" (Godawful handwriting!), veteran editor Nobunaga Shinbo discusses authors with exceptionally beautiful--or beastly--penmanship.

"Every author's handwriting had a distinctive personality," says Shinbo. "Kenzaburo Oe's manuscript looked like a drawing."

I opened a book showing Oe's manuscript. Indeed, contrary to the sharpness of his works, his handwriting is really "cute" like a cheerful drawing.

This is the season for writing New Year's greeting cards. In attaching short, handwritten messages, I will try to aim for what looks cheerful and charming, never mind if it's still a pathetic scrawl.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.