Sunday, January 18, 2009

In which I try my hand at Japanese calligraphy

Saturday afternoon found me tucked away in the front room of a quiet older Japanese man where I practiced for the first time the art of Japanese calligraphy. We sat at low tables where he served us green tea and then laid out all of the materials we would need - several different sized brushes, a well for the ink, a stand to hold our inked brushes shaped like a dragon, a piece of felt to protect the table, and a heavy metal paperweight to keep the light rice paper from shifting as we painted.

He asked us what kanji we wanted to practice that day. Vanessa chose "diplomacy", her career of choice when she leaves Japan, and I chose "family". He wrote out each one twice, once by itself and a second time with the stroke order numbered so we knew how to write it. The word I chose, "family" or kazoku, turns out is not the easiest of kanji to start with, but I gave it my best.

Here is what it should look like, written by my sensei.

And here are my two best attempts.

After awhile I decided that me and kazoku were not getting along. It was my first time nad I had jumed into the deep end. So I decided to go with another kanji, one I already knew how to write, hare or "sunny". I like it because if you break it up it contains two other kanji so that it literally means "blue day."

I got along a lot better with this word than before although it still was difficult. He was very kind and was very generous with his praise, asking me if I was sure this was my first time, but I've come to distrust Japanese people in regards to compliments. They fawn over me when they realize I can eat with chopsticks or can speak a few words of their language, so I think perhaps he was just trying to be nice. I asked him how long he had studied calligraphy and he said 30 years. Then I didn't feel too bad. In 30 years I'm sure I could make some improvements. ;-)

How it should look.

And mine.

Before we left he had us write what we had practiced on two nicer boards, one for him which he dated and put in a box to keep (along with some painted by my good friend Keely, who was an ALT in Tahara before me,) and he gave us one to take home. Then he showed us his piles and piles of paper that had a long Chinese poem he's been practicing writing. He explained that he lays the long vertical strips out on the floor and kneels over it wearing knee pads while he paints.

All in all it was a very interesting afternoon. I really enjoyed it. I would have taken pictures while we were painting but I got so into it that I forgot. Hopefully we'll visit again sometime next month.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Random about Japan

Four is an unlucky number here in Japan so you very rarely see things sold in sets of four. This isn't usually a problem until you're buying things that come in twos, for example pocket warmers made especially for shoes. They sell them in packs of five so either one of your feet has to go cold or you are forced to buy two packs. It's kinda like the hot dog, hot dog bun mystery in America and just as annoying. What's more annoying is that I need pocket warmers for my feet in the first place since they don't heat the classrooms and apparently don't believe in insulation. Am already prayng for spring.