Thursday, January 6, 2011

Calligraphy in Tokyo

I love this! I have often wished that Western calligraphy had the same respect that it does in the East. It used to. I've seen books which were the standard for teaching handwriting back in the 19th and early 20th century. I took handwriting when I was in school but when I approached the SF Untied School district with a plan for teaching handwriting - as a volunteer and for free! - I was turned down. No wonder we get chicken scratches in place of handwriting and no wonder nobody can read them.

Now, we are lucky to get hand written notes, much less those written elegantly. San Francisco has an active calligraphy group but unfortunately for those of us with no cars, classes are held at night and across town. The study of calligraphy has shrunk to a small group of devotees.

Nearly 3,000 people gathered in Tokyo on Wednesday from as far away as Brazil to break out their calligraphy brushes for an annual new year's ritual to bring in 2011.

Traditionally, people across Japan use ink brushes and paper to write out their resolutions, wishes or auspicious Chinese characters to commemorate the start of a new year.

Participants, who ranged from those barely old enough to write all the way up to 80-somethings, were given 24 minutes to complete their calligraphic portrayals of the year ahead.

"I first came since my nephew had been coming a few times, and now I've come 13 times in a row," said 60-year-old Yasuko Ikeda after finishing her piece, executed using a thick, horse-hair brush and ink made from charcoal.

The Chinese characters selected for people to write ranged from "New Year" to "Vibrant Nature."

"I hope that, as I wrote, I can get through this year without catching a cold or getting sick," said Yuki Oogane, 12, who wrote the Chinese characters for "Healthy Child."

This year, a group of students from a Japanese language school based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, also took part.

"It is a different experience because we don't have that in Brazil. It was different and new," said Kevin Kenji Ishii, 16, when asked about practicing calligraphy in Japan.

Calligraphy is a revered art in many parts of Asia, with the act of writing Chinese characters believed to sharpen the mind and improve concentration.

Japanese has three systems of writing. Hiragana and katakana have characters for each syllable, with katakana used for foreign words, while the Chinese characters are used to represent full words.

The calligraphy pieces are collected and ranked by judges according to strict rules which evaluate the calligraphers' skills. Prizes will be awarded on the 23rd of January.

(Reporting by Chris Meyers; editing by Elaine Lies)

© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Zoomie said...

By the time she left Japan after living there for two years, my mother could read, write elegantly and speak Japanese. She had beautiful handwriting and would have relished a chance to do this. She always felt inadequate because she never went to college - man, was she ever far off the beam!