Alison Reed: Calligraphy Lessons

My CIP has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had while in Japan. I didn’t expect much from it, because I chose it at the last minute when my original ideas didn’t work out. But now I’m glad, because I don’t think I could have planned something better.

For the past two months, I’ve been going to lessons almost weekly to learn calligraphy. My teacher and her daughter are very kind and patient with helping me understand. Of course, I’m way behind the other students who have been learning since they were young, but I was surprised with how much I’ve learned since I started, thanks to my teacher.

Almost all of the students are younger than me, most being in middle school. There are two sisters who take their lesson at the same time as me, and because they live in my neighborhood, we usually walk home together. One is in college and the other is in high school. We are planning to go out together soon, so that they can show me some of their favorite places in Kyoto.

Through my CIP, I was able to observe and learn about more different aspects of Japanese culture. For example, we learn in class how to properly greet and thank people, but I was never sure how Japanese people learn those things. In the United States, I learned most of them from my mother, but in my calligraphy class, I observed my teacher instruct the younger students on how to thank her and how to behave in the classroom. I also saw that many of the students needed repeated reminders from the teacher in order to behave properly. I thought this was interesting because when I was growing up, no teacher would have reprimanded me for not having good manners, but would have talked to my parents about it instead. It was interesting to see how the teacher played a part in socializing the younger students in the class.

At the end of April, the teacher has planned for a going away party for me. The teacher, her daughter, some of the students and I will all go out to dinner. I’m excited to have a chance to have fun with the people I’ve met there, and also to thank them for everything they’ve done for me.

My CIP was not only a lot of fun, but I also learned a lot, met wonderful people, and started to really feel like a part of my community. I think I lucked my way into a great experience, and I’m so glad that it all worked out so well. I want to continue learning calligraphy when I go back to America, but I will never forget my first teacher and my first lessons.

4 thoughts on “Alison Reed: Calligraphy Lessons

  1. Calligraphy sounds really interesting, especially since it’s such a traditional art! Are there any particular kanji that really stuck with you after learning to write them in calligraphy? Or were there any particularly interesting cultural connections between the kanji and Japanese culture in general?

    • Actually, one of the kanji my sensei used to teach me different scripts was 「蔵」. Now I’ll never forget how to write it, because I practiced it so many times! I also leanred some history about certian characters, and famous masters of calligraphy. I think it was also interesting because there are a lot of similiaries between 書道 and other 道s。 For example, my teacher told me that I cannot simply draw a line to make the character correctly, I have to “live the line”. There’s a philosophy behind it that has to be understood in order to become good at it, and I found that really interesting.

  2. Were you frustrated at all by the calligraphy course at the beginning (it seems like you are happy with it now at any rate)? At the beginning of last semester we were warned that if we want to do calligraphy we shouldn’t do it in order to learn kanji because it would take so much time just to perfect form etc. that we probably wouldn’t learn many kanji that we didn’t already know. If I remember correctly you have an artistic background (art history major?), so perhaps you went in with more of an esthetic attitude. Do you feel that you have more of a grasp of concepts such as stroke order/balance/writing style etc?

    • Yeah, I don’t think learning calligraphy would really help someone learn kanji. It might help you write kanji better though, because you work on balance and the form of the lines. You are correct, I study art and so I was much more interested in calligraphy from a historical and aesthetic point of view, rather than trying to learn more kanji. So I wasn’t frustrated, because it was pretty much what I expected. For me, I think it helped me understand the art of calligraphy more, which is useful for me interests, but didn’t really help me with Japanese.