Jacqueline Wee: Calligraphy Club

I’ve always been interested in Japanese calligraphy.  There’s something about the contrast of bold black lines on white that just gets me.  Maybe I’ve read too many comics glorifying the image of calligraphy masters, but the process itself also strikes me as incredibly poetic.  I picture an old man in a tatami room, dipping his brush in ink.  Breathing in the scent of ink and incense, he deliberately places his brush on paper, pauses for a moment, and then delivers a powerful first stroke, imbued with the wisdom of many years.  Or I picture woman behind screens, enveloped in the folds of her red silk kimono, pondering for a while before settling on a suitable line of poetry.  Her hand quivers slightly as she thinks about the man with whom she is corresponding, but then steadies as she begins to churn out the elegant, perfectly-formed characters that have been drilled into her since she was a child.

With the desire to create my own over-exaggerated poetic scenario, I joined the calligraphy club at Doshisha University.  Despite having an interest in calligraphy, I had never actually practiced it, so I emailed the club representative asking if complete beginners were welcome.  They were welcome.  He told me what day and what time to come by, and on the set day and set time, I climbed to the sixth floor of the “Student Meeting Building” (A.K.A  gakuseikaikan) of Shinmachi campus, just a five minute walk away from KCJS on Doshisha’s Imadegawa campus, and braced myself for the first contact.  Nervous about using my rusty, less-than-passable Japanese abilities, I took a breath and opened the first door on the right, the one on which the sign SHODO was hung (written in Japanese, of course).

Without going too much into the nitty-gritty details, my first day was really fun, but it was far from what my over-active imagination had conjured.  I did get the scent of tatami and the satisfyingly serene feeling from focusing all my attention on a single task, but I also got numb legs from sitting on the floor for three hours and a good deal of frustration from being unable to properly write the simplest character in existence, ichi (―).  And I had never come into contact with Japanese pertaining to a very specific subject before, so more than half the time I didn’t know what the club members were saying.  However, even the bad things were kind of fun in a way.  I became even more set on joining the club so that I could practice and eventually write more elegantly, sit seiza for longer, and learn shodo-specific words.

I’ve been going to club every Thursday since that first day.  Although the club meets three times a week, two of those times are at the Kyotanabe campus, which is just far enough to be a nuisance, so I stick to my once-a-week routine.  The club members are all very friendly, and they always come to my rescue when I have questions.  Although I think my writing is still pretty sloppy, it’s definitely improved, and my legs have somewhat adjusted to sitting seiza.  To clarify, I mean that I’ve gotten used to the feeling of my legs being asleep, rather than that they don’t fall asleep as quickly…I’ve also picked up some vocab, so I’m not quite as in-the-dark when someone explains the difference between different styles and materials or whatever else it may be.

Although I opted to join a club so that I could interact with people my age, rather than taking private lessons, a teacher also comes to the club for an hour or two every week, or nearly every week, so I get the best of both worlds.  With corrections and instruction from the teacher, I’m getting ready to write something for the calligraphy club’s December exhibit.  I’m still sort of hesitant about putting anything up for display because my writing look worse than an elementary school student’s, but such an opportunity doesn’t come often, so I figure I should just go for it.

In any case, joining the calligraphy club was a great decision.  Since the materials are fairly compact, I can continue practicing even when I return to America, which is the best part.  Although I may be starting something in Japan and must return home eventually, I can keep doing it for the rest of my life, all the while reflecting back on my time spent in Japan.

4 thoughts on “Jacqueline Wee: Calligraphy Club

  1. CIP、かなり上手くいったようですね。


    • コメントありがとうございます。私にとって書道で一番難しいことは行で漢字をまっすぐ並べることです。時々、書いた文字が紙の右のエッジに接して、時々、右のエッジに接してしまいます。なぜか分かりませんが、紙の真ん中に書けません。だから、「私はとても下手だ」と思ってしまう時がありますが、親切な部員にほめられているので、練習し続きます。一番大切なことは、皆が能力が違うと思いながら、他の人と比べずに、一生懸命がんばることです。書道以外の時もそれを考えるようになってきました。

  2. Sounds like you had an awesome time in shodo club! 😀 Have you graduated to other kanji yet? Or are you still working on that 一? (笑)
    Do you have a favorite kanji to write in calligraphy?
    Also, what would you say is the most important thing to take into account when writing with a big brush rather than a pencil or pen?

    • Thankfully, I have moved on to other kanji, but unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean I can properly write 一. Someday, I hope…
      Probably my favorite kanji to write at this point is 教える. I don’t know why, but it’s easy to get the balance right, and I feel better as a human being when I can write a kanji without botching it completely. The most important think to take into account when writing with a brush is that you can’t just write with an even pressure like you do with a pencil/pen. I mean, you can, but you’ll end up with a bunch of fat lines at best, and a bunch of blobs at worst.