Andrew Proebstle: Calligraphy

Through participating in the Community Involvement Project we are asked, as ethnographers, to take away from our experiences and be able to discuss an aspect of Japanese life. Studying calligraphy in a classroom with no more than four or five elementary school students at one time and one teacher made for easy observation, but it’s actually how my teacher went out of her way to deal with me that I find most interesting, and is what I want to briefly talk about without revealing too much of her personal information on the internet.

A calligraphy teacher for elementary students is someone who teaches basic techniques, and an elementary student practicing calligraphy tends to just want to get the lesson over with as quickly as possible. How then, should a foreigner interested in learning more advanced techniques be dealt with, if at all, was the predicament my teacher was faced with when I first came to her house and asked to be instructed. Fortunately for me she accepted, and even more fortunately she has worked her hardest to humor all of my unorthodox requests. She helped me write poetry, a Zen koan, and even ancient style calligraphy, all of which are things that she would not normally be teaching. For her, this meant going out of her way to prepare examples for me to practice copying that she’s not used to writing, let alone teaching to someone with barely even three years of Japanese language. Even though I made things difficult for her, she never once complained about it to me.

Her generosity goes beyond even that though. For starters, she gave me the brushes I’ve used for class every week as a present, free of charge. She never seems to mind if, for example, I’ve been struggling and it takes me until 9pm to complete my lesson, meaning that she has to wait longer to eat dinner. After a semester had passed and the New Year had come, she presented me with a lovely paperweight to use with the design of a sheep (the zodiac animal for this year), again all out of the goodness of her heart. The per month rate she charges me is more than fair, and makes it clear that she teaches for the joy of it, rather than to make a profit in spite of all the paper and ink that gets used up in a single day. It’s this character of my calligraphy teacher that not only stands out to me in an ethnographic way because of her dedication to teaching, but also has my sincerest gratitude for the kindness she’s shown me every week. It is to her that I owe all that I’ve been able to learn, and I’d like to continue practicing calligraphy after I return to America out of respect for her efforts.

3 thoughts on “Andrew Proebstle: Calligraphy

  1. Your CIP experience sounds amazing! Your teacher’s generosity, patience and dedication are definitely characteristics that one should learn from. I also did calligraphy when I was in elementary school, and it was challenging just to hold the brush and write simple strokes. It is very impressive that you also did koans and ancient style calligraphy. I would love to see some of your calligraphy if you don’t mind sharing!

  2. You’re doing Calligraphy?! I feel like I should know this… Anyways it definitely sounds like you had a great time during your CIP and you, obviously, were able to find such a great teacher willing to accommodate you both as a foreigner and as an adult. Looking at all the great experiences in this CIP what would you say is your best experience? Be it the funnest thing to write, or the hardest, or the most complicated. Don’t put much thought into the answer, just whatever first comes to mind.

  3. Thanks Frances! I definitely have been able to distinguish between the students in the class that are skilled at calligraly and those that struggle with it, and it’s definitely hard for those who aren’t approaching it with the right attitude. As my teacher once told me: “The city of Rome was not built in a day. Try, try again!” Maybe one day I’ll be able to make that “Rome” of calligraphy…
    I’ll be presenting and showing pictures of the calligraphy I did at the end of the year ceremony, so you’ll just have to wait until then!

    And thank you Christian! As far as my best experience goes, while I enjoyed every lesson and am proud of all the calligraphy I was able to write, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Getting to write on a hand fan (non-folding), however, stands out in my mind as one of the more special lessons. Again, look forward to the presentation!