Archive for the ‘習字・書道 (Shuji/Shodo)’ Category

Adult Material

2011年 8月 24日

In November 2007, my Japanese calligraphy study commenced. My teacher would write a model using orange ink and I would spend a few sessions trying to duplicate her work. About the end of 2008 with my interest growing, under the pressure of a friend’s encouragement, I joined the Japanese Calligraphy Society. 三段合格作品Monthly magazines, models to duplicate, and other support come from the society. Under my teacher’s guidance I practice works each month and, at the end of the month, submit one or two clean copies for evaluation. Judges in Kyoto send my works back with orange mark-ups on where I should improve.

Each month there is also the chance to move up to a higher rank. As our levels increase, so do the expectations; hence, the promotions become more rare. Upon entering the society I set an aggressive goal of fifth dan, at which level one receives the highest teaching license. Early success buoyed me up, but sometimes life throws challenges which interfere: being struck by a car; getting married; trouble with the tax man; death in the family; all manner of things have taken priority over study. Regardless – in life – we have to choose to move forward if we want to succeed. Setbacks are natural, but giving up means an end to progress.

Last Saturday, my teacher’s announcement lifted my spirits as I have now achieved third dan. Reviewing my high level works, I can see there is a significant difference in the overall balance of the current work. Additionally, third dan is a gateway to the higher levels; from this level we may study reisho, tensho, and Kampo sho styles. Reisho (隷書) has been my primary motivator lately, as I have wanted to practice it for a long time. I will post some explanation of it as I study.

My teaching license will now be upgraded to Advanced Level Teacher (高等師範) labeling me as qualified to instruct adults up to second dan.

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Promise Not Forgotten

2010年 4月 27日

二段合格My blog is full of unfilled promises right now. Hopefully during the summer I can make a list of them and start fulfilling them. Anyhow, here is one that’s been hanging out on the back burner. A few of my calligraphy works have been posted online, but my better works tend to be on the gasenshi (画仙紙), long paper often used for scrolls, which doesn’t fit nicely on a flatbed scanner.

Last July, I achieved 2nd dan (二段) which qualified me as a teacher for junior high level and below (中等師範) from my Tanabata work (七夕作品). My plan was to visit Lawson Station convenience store and make three scans of the top, middle, and bottom of the work. After that I would stitch the images together on my dual core and post it here. Around the time I was searching for appropriate software to merge the images, my computer problems started. I’ve managed to melt down both of my laptops a few times each.

Today, I had the files with me on a USB key, my time during 3rd period opened up, and I noticed my computer at this school had Panorama Maker from Arc Soft. Strike while the iron is hot, they say. The software was extremely simple to use (although it didn’t seem so at first, because of the UI) and in a minute it was all done.

I’ll write more about it later, but for now I’m just happy to have it up on the screen. If you click through, be careful; selecting the full-size image will take some bandwidth.

Harbinger of Auspiciousness

2010年 1月 12日

Periodically photos are needed on the blog. MotarasuNoticing that they’ve been lacking, here’s another from the cellphone series. We were visiting an exhibit at a special high school awhile back and I enjoyed the calligraphy works. This single character was quite well done. I snapped the image because nobody with me could read it and I figured I would research it later.

Motarasu means ‘bring’ as in some thing to some place, or ’cause’ like hurricane damage, or ‘bring in’ such as a big contract or lots of profits, or ‘achieve’ as perhaps peace in Iraq, or ‘have’ as in ‘have kittens’. Having both positive and negative connotations amused me. Since it was at this high school event, I will translate it as ACHIEVE!

Excitement Among the Mundane

2009年 9月 2日

Before the term gets into full swing there aren’t many things for the Assistant Language Teachers to do. Of course we can prepare for classes, but there’s only so much of that to be done. Many ALTs over the years have complained about how they are just ignored but still expected to sit for 7 hours and 45 minutes being ‘busy’.

At my Wednesday school they have decided to take advantage of one of my skills and it has brought a little variety and excitement to what could have been a mundane day. Technically I am licensed to teach Japanese calligraphy to elementary and younger ages. One teacher who has been assigned the task of grading the childrens’ works finds it a bit laborious, so she has enlisted my aid.

Today we wrestled with which student from each grade created the best piece of calligraphy. A tough point in grading young students is that each work will include some positive points and, inevitably, some not yet developed points. So, whose weak points override their strong points and whose are vice versa is the critical factor. Rather than let it traumatize me, I had fun stretching out my creative fingers which have been cramped by recent traumatic events.

Most important point of the day: don’t read the names until after judging.

Lucky Me

2009年 6月 14日

I like to fight with my girlfriend about many things. Here are some examples.

“I’m a very lucky man!”, says I. “No, I’m a very lucky woman!”, says she. (repeat, as desired.)

“You are a very beautiful woman”, says I. “Really, I worry about your eyesight. Your vision must be horrible.”, says she. “But I put my glasses in my pocket for my drivers license test and still passed very quickly, so my vision must be good.”, goes my reply.

Sunday was my 44th birthday, but I called it my first birthday, since it was my first (or many) with my girlfriend. I knew her last June, but we weren’t officially dating and she was busy.

We drove into the mountains with a homemade picnic lunch and enjoyed it in a park by the Miyagawa river. After eating we had very important conversation. Torrential rains came through, but we stayed under our old tree and it shed the bulk of the storm.

In the evening we ate at Inase, a sushi restaurant in an old, castle-like home. I had a few drinks, and received a new case for my calligraphy tools as a present.

A Real Piece of Work

2009年 4月 1日

Well, here it is, finally, after all this time. I hope it was worth waiting for.

I started studying Japanese calligraphy (習字・shuji, 書道・shodo) in November of 2004 and joined the Japanese Calligraphy Society (日本習字) in November of 2005. Joining the society was a sort of challenge to see how I would rank; and, after initial success, I set high goals for myself. Sometimes I write about my advancements; however, I’ve gotten comments about how I rarely post my work. (Like this fun work to test out “real paper”, or this sample from a gasenshi size work, or this gasenshi size work when I earned my Elementary teaching license.)

My primary excuse is that, although I have a scanner at home, it will only handle A4 size paper and the hanshi (半紙) size paper we use for most works is a little less than B4 size. Recently, I have been pricing A3 size scanners to satisfy my needs. Unfortunately, there only seem to be three available: Business scanner – expensive, low resolution, but with a handy document feeder; Professional scanner – kind of pricey, high resolution; and Combination printer/fax/scanner – decent resolution for about $500. While the least expensive option was tempting me to sell my A4 machine and go for it, I discovered that Japanese convenience stores are tremendously convenient.

Lawson’s Station provides a scanner for about 50 cents a page. If I zealously scanned two pages a month from my four years of calligraphy, I would spend about $50. Given my current desire to buy a new car, move to Ise, have a wedding, etc., it seems an easy decision. There were some initial bumps; for example, although their machine can upload files from almost any media, they will only download to a USB card. Oops, I showed up with Mini SD and Compact Flash.

Enough dragging of feet: here it is. 2009 Jan Kaisho SubmissionThis is my submission for January of 2009, it is an auspicious message of longevity for the new year. Roughly, “Pine Blossoms Follow the Flight of the Crane”. Pine is evergreen and cranes live long lives, making them both signs of eternity. When cranes launch from the pine trees, tiny blossoms can be seen swirling after them. At the in-law’s house we found this in an old book about poems to display during tea ceremony, so my girlfriend’s father thinks I should paint this one large enough to mount on a scroll for her mother’s tea ceremonies. Actually, I have been thinking about this as a gift idea for certain special people, but haven’t gotten around to the planning necessary to get this done.

This work is in the block script called kaisho (楷書), named after a tree with evenly spaced leaves because the horizontal strokes are generally evenly spaced. Orange marks on the work are made by the society. Circles are good. Double circles (二重丸) are great. The other marks are recommendations for improvement. Because I haven’t made as much time to study, and because the levels get tougher, it has been a year since I last advanced. That day, I was very relaxed and could write smoothly, even though it was my only practice that month. Particularly nice are the double circles, because it has been almost three years since I’ve received them.

I’m feeling lazy today, but next time I post a work, I will try to scan our model and explanatory notes on my home scanner.

Sloth Hath its Rewards

2009年 3月 2日

For a year, my calligraphy has floundered along with my Japanese studies. Realization is constant and nagging. I need to find the energy and focus my heart again. Having said that, it is interesting to note that sometimes things have a way of working out.

My girlfriend and a few others have commented on how my Japanese has improved sharply over the last year. A significant part of this is that my speech sounds more natural. My firm belief is that this isn’t learned in a class, and certainly not from independent study, but through practice speaking with natives. Living in Japan means that I have unlimited access to language practice. I can walk into any business, public facility, etc., and start a conversation about anything with a native speaker; whereas, if I were living in America, I would have to hire a teacher and talk about a more limited range of topics.

I find that my girlfriend communicates in an elegant fashion (which she considers normal) and this has elevated my speech as well. My hope is to be able to express myself freely in Japanese. Let’s be clear that this is a long-term goal.

Saturday, I made late brunch for my girlfriend and we discussed a lot of important issues. As a result, I once again skipped shuji (習字) class. I sent a note by cell phone, apologizing to my teacher and asking her not to forget my face. She sent a message back telling me to pick up my work from January when I show my face, because I have been elevated to pre-second level (準二段・jun nidan). I was a bit surprised because I only practiced once in January and I don’t remember my final copy being that impressive. Although, I do recall being a bit relaxed, which always makes for better cooperation with my brush.

For a moment I wondered if they advance people out of pity ocassionally, but I don’t think they would risk their reputation by licensing someone who wasn’t ready. I had another experience last week which might help give me the energy to study. More on that later this week.

Desire to Eat the Forbidden Food

2008年 11月 1日

I’m hoping that title draws a little scandalous attention. Last night I headed to Ise (伊勢市), where my girlfriend lives, and crashed in a hotel near her place. My hotel room was inexpensive, but I realize now that being immediately under the public bath and showers might have affected the price, all night there was the sound of water flowing down drains. I set a wake up call for 5am and reluctantly showered up and dressed for the day when it rang. After leaving the hotel, I was ferried around by my sweetie until about 5:30pm. Getting more than 12 hours together is a rare and special treat.

First stop was Akafuku (赤福), famed makers of some very tasty mochi – which was banned last year amidst scandal, to pick up tsuitachi mochi (朔日餅). (Note that I used the wrong kanji in yesterday’s post.) We were shocked to find that there was no line at the main shop. The manager was out front greeting, so we were afraid they were sold out and we would have to show up at 4:45am next time to catch them as the doors opened. Apparently the government ban on selling their main product was lifted in February, but they are still awaiting permission to sell the special products. I’m guessing they will have to wait until after January first, their biggest day, just as they did this year, to make the punishment hurt. Hopefully, I will be writing about this on February or March first.

Our second destination was still clear: Sushikyuu (すし久) for tsuitachigayu (朔日粥), another monthly special. We were armed with the August/September issue of Kurashi no Techou (暮しの手帖), an ad-free magazine about all manner of products, like a more graceful version of Consumer Reports. This issue listed what the special okayu (お粥) would be every month, so we arrived knowing we could order our rice porridge with carrots, burdock, and oysters. The set also included: a grilled fish, an elegant slice of paper-thin rolled omelete, a mixture of seaweed and tiny fish in sweet vinegar, and some rich and fluffy tofu/vegetable treats.

Sushikyuu’s atmosphere is a dream; sitting in what was a travelers’ hotel hundreds of years ago, one can dine on excellent meals of a very Japanese quality. Today was my second experience there; the first coming in January of 2005. My bosses brought me on their annual New Year’s pilgrimage to seek favor at the Grand Shrine for their business; followed by some tasty chirashizushi (散らし寿司).

We wandered around the Inner Shrine complex and stopped twice to pray. I have been learning more about ‘proper’ Shinto prayer, which is really more of an act of showing respect and clearing one’s mind. I would put it nearer to meditation than prayer, but even that doesn’t describe it so well. I think it is worthy of it’s own future post after I ask more questions.

Returning to Okageyokocho (おかげ横丁), we enjoyed a little window shopping and stumbled upon a coffee shop that drew us in. We chatted about much while waiting for some fine, handmade coffee with a beautiful dessert made from chestnut. We found the car and headed north to my house for a break to refresh for the next phase of our venture.

Monday is Culture Day (文化の日) in Japan, so my girlfriends’ high school age charge was in her school Culture Festival (文化祭). As yet unknown to her, I have desired to see this school for a couple years now and was happy to get an invite. She was in a fashion show, so we watched that event from start to finish. I have now met all five of the youths my girlfriend is assisting.

After the festival we had some light fare at a favorite tea shop and topped it off with a fig tart. Two more errands were to pick up my calligraphy models – even though I am on injured reserve – and buying a congratulatory French dessert for the fashion show participant. Finally we returned to my home to discuss November’s calendar, and more important stuff, while relaxing.

She departed for her parents’ home to have a nap before driving all the way to Ise this evening. She also verified the schedule for a new experience with her father on the 8th. I will be sure to write about our guys’ night out tending to a five day pottery firing process. Tomorrow, she will be baking ten cakes for Culture Day, in addition to her already packed schedule. I hope our day of fun and distraction leaves her mentally refreshed and not too physically drained.

First Experience

2008年 10月 31日

My girlfriend told me about tsuitachi mochi (一日餅) and it sounded interesting, only she has never experienced it herself. For those of you who know a little Japanese or can read the kanji, you are probably scratching your heads trying to make sense of what you are reading. Tsuitachi is the first day of a month and mochi is made by pounding special rice until it becomes glutinous and yummy.

On the first day of each month, on Okageyokocho (おかげ横丁) – a very old street near the Inner Shrine in Ise – special mochi is served. Restaurants also have special okayu (お粥) – rice porridge – available. Reportedly, one should arrive around 5am if there is to be any chance of acquiring the goodies.

September and October first fell on inconvenient days for making the journey south, but November first is Saturday. I was worried that I would have to return for shuji class, but my knee injury is preventing me from sitting seiza (正座) so I’m taking a break.

I will head to Ise in the afternoon and stay in a hotel since the earliest train from here would be too late. Hopefully, I can join my girlfriend for a relaxing morning tasting new foods.

Surviving the Fun and Festivities

2008年 10月 15日

How old does one get before they learn not to overdo it? I can’t answer that question just yet because I’m nowhere near figuring it out. Friday night I headed to Hatsu Warai, a local bar and grill which seats about 12, to check in on festival preparations. I let them know that I had found white shorts and a sarashi (晒). Several other volunteers for Sunday’s activities also showed up, so I was obliged to stay longer (read that: eat and drink more) than I had planned.

Saturday I went to calligraphy class and practiced the cursive shuji model. I cut out a little early, rushed home to wash out my brushes, and headed back toward city hall for the festival (津祭り・Tsu Matsuri). Every year a dance group from Hokkaido comes and they also set up a large food booth. Grilled scallops and miso soup with salmon, potatoes, and other Fall flavors really hit the spot. A friend insisted I should visit their bazaar, but when I got there they were gone, she invited me to a “home party”. I went, but it was one of those situations I refer to as “kidnapping”: basically I was taken to a place away from train stations with no method of escape for 7 hours. We had a good time drinking wines and eating imported cheeses, and I hooked up with a couple teachers I’ve been wanting to chat with for awhile.

Sunday morning I got up a little sleep deprived and headed for my main activity this weekend. I put on white tabi (足袋) and white shorts. Then someone wrapped my lower torso in my sarashi, which is basically a 9.3 meter long swath of bleached white cotton fabric. It is the 1300 year old version of a weight belt. Over that I wore a white happi (法被) and a nice old lady wrapped a long red swath of cotton, criss-crossed around my shoulders and tied a big bow in the back. I looked like a big Christmas present. We split into two teams of about 30 people and tied hachimaki (鉢巻) with red or blue polka dots around our foreheads. A priest gave us each a large cup of sake (酒) and we took turns carrying a 300kg portable shrine around a 10km course, stopping several places to dance around while shouldering this burden. At each stop we were offered drinks and snack foods. I don’t get drunk easily but, starting at 8:40am and finishing around 5pm, I was a bit loopy. After carrying the shrine, several of us were invited to a complimentary sushi dinner at Hatsu Warai, but I didn’t stay long before excusing myself to an early slumber.

Monday morning I headed to Ise for some shopping with my girlfriend and then we headed North for lunch and then back to the shrine to watch a friend play in a shamisen concert. Serious housecleaning followed at my house. It was nice having help, but my girlfriend takes the whole process a lot more seriously than I do. By the time this was all done I was totally run down and settled for a simple dinner of okayu with egg.

My right calf and throat still hurt from the activity and lack of rest (and drinking everyday), but it was a blast and I learned a lot. I will probably carry the shrine next year, but I will buy tabi with air soles; and I will try to drink tea at several of the stops. Coincidentally my health check results came back today: other than bad cholesterol and BMI (which I ignore anyhow), it’s all good news.