Every Thursday, I would walk about half an hour from the Doshisha-Imadegawa campus to Asakusa-sensei’s house to take calligraphy (shodou) lessons. I always enjoyed my walks to shodou because it was a quieter suburban part of Kyoto that I wouldn’t otherwise explore. Once there, I was joined by Asakusa-sensei’s other regular students (never more than 5 at a time). They were mostly middle-aged women, but very occasionally another college student or child would join us. This at first was a little disappointing because I had been looking forward to making Japanese friends my age, but these women were all so sweet and welcoming that I quickly got past this feeling and looked forward to going back every week.
I had some experience doing shodou before I came to KCJS, but this was the first time having a teacher supervise my work so closely. I learned how to hold the brush, the amount of pressure required for each stroke, and what the correct posture is. Having a teacher to remind me of these details that are so easy to miss when you’re focused on copying the characters in the example booklet made a huge difference in my rate of progress. Not only was she technically helpful, Asakusa-sensei and the other ladies were encouraging me and pairing critiques with compliments. I wasn’t sure what to make of all their positive feedback because I was a beginner and I worried they were being overly friendly, but over time I realized that shodou isn’t always about right and wrong. While there are certainly standards for what makes a balanced work, a lot of the times, what I viewed as a mistake was simply seen as another style of writing the character.
During the shodou lesson, we would usually take a tea and cookies break. Sometimes it was homemade cookies that Asakusa-sensei’s daughter made and other times one of the students brought in a little snack. Seeing this culture of exchanging little sweets I brought my own (a treat called torimon from Fukuoka) that I shared with everyone that week. Though I was always eager to get back to my shodou, I really enjoyed these breaks because it allowed me to both interact with the others more intentionally and observe the interactions among these Japanese women, which did include puzzling through some Kansai-ben.
I decided upon this CIP because it was an activity that I would be able to continue on my own once I returned to the States. However, as much as I enjoyed learning shodou and seeing my progress over time, what I’ll remember is the peaceful and warm environment that Asakusa-sensei and her students created.