Every Monday, two other KCJS students and I take calligraphy classes near Shimogamo-jinja, which is only a ten-minute bike ride away from Doshisha.
At first, I had some difficulty choosing a CIP. I knew I wanted to participate in something traditionally Japanese and artistic where I could bring home some of my work, but I was not sure on what to do. After talking with my host mother about my concerns, she suggested that I try calligraphy classes. Her friend is the teacher, and KCJS students have enjoyed her classes in the past. My host mom then introduced me and the other KCJS students who wanted to participate to sensei. We arrived at her house, armed with omiyage and got started right away. Sensei provids us with all the materials necessary to participate, as well as tea and snacks at the end of the lesson. Each week we practice one or two kanji, while sensei advises us and corrects our work. Once we are familiar with the kanji we have been practicing, we write a final version on beautiful, high-end paper, which sensei is kind enough to let us use.
I was a little nervous when I began the calligraphy classes. My handwriting is not very neat and I have very little experience with painting. I had done some calligraphy in the past, but would not consider myself to be any good at it. However, these concerns quickly evaporated as soon as I met sensei and began the lessons. She taught us all the terms for the materials, explained the proper technique for holding the brushes, and demonstrated the best posture and how our bodies should feel when we do calligraphy. However, I learned more than just what calligraphy is or how I can make my kanji look better. Sensei gave me another perspective on the importance of paying attention to details in Japanese society. For example, when writing sideways lines in a kanji, the line should rise slightly up as it goes from the left-hand side of the page to the right. This allows for space to open up within the character itself and provides a better balance on the page. Once I started writing my kanji with this in mind, they started to look cleaner and nicer. On my own, I never would have paid attention to such a small detail. I soon began to notice a similar focus on detail in other parts of Japanese culture, that I had overlooked before these calligraphy classes. For instance, in many crowded areas, there are signs that clearly mark which side of the street visitors should walk on so that there is no confusion. A detail that the architects and designers could have easily overlooked, but didn’t, allows for a natural and easy flow that you do not always see in the busy areas of other countries.
I highly recommend sensei’s calligraphy classes to anyone who is interested in traditional Japanese arts. The only regret I have is that we only got to meet for 10 weeks. Sensei is incredibly knowledgeable in different calligraphy styles as well as other traditional Japanese arts (she is a ceramicist and made the plates and cups that she serves our post-lesson tea in) and is always so excited to share this knowledge with study abroad students. She also always checks in with us to make sure that we are understanding everything that she says and does her best to translate Kansai-ben into hyoujun-go when we have questions about it. Her prices for KCJS are very generous, unlike some traditional art classes in Kyoto. She also has great recommendations for where to go see sakura trees around Kyoto!