Brush up your shodo calligraphy skills

The Japan News

Matthew James smiles during an interview in Tokyo.

The Japan NewsA calligraphy workshop for foreigners planned for late August in Tokyo will offer participants a valuable opportunity to experience the essence of shodo, a traditional Japanese art form. The event is hosted by the Yomiuri Shohokai calligraphy society and others.

The first of its kind for the society, the workshop will be held during the calligraphy group’s Tokyo exhibition. The society’s exhibitions across the nation are listed as a cultural event of the Tokyo 2020 Nationwide Participation Program organized by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Participants will write kanji or kana letters using a brush and calligraphy set provided at the venue for free. English-speaking instructors will be on hand.

Instructor and society member Matthew James said, “I want to help the participants to get a deeper understanding and appreciation of what is a truly amazing art form.”

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  • The Japan News

    James shows his calligraphy.

“I would like participants to enjoy playing with brushes and ink. I would like them to see their improvement in a very short time. And I would like them to feel the sense of accomplishment when they finally put their brushes down,” said James, 42, who is from Britain.

James’ enthusiasm stems from his first experience writing kanji letters with a brush back in 2000. James was an assistant learning teacher of English at the time under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme at Tsukiyono Junior High School in Gunma Prefecture.

He was already a big fan of Japanese culture — especially ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai — when he had the chance to try calligraphy during a JET conference.

“It was fantastic, it was so much fun,” James said when recalling the experience of writing the two kanji characters for yujo, meaning friendship. “On a beautiful piece of white paper, you just make a big mess. It was very cathartic,” he continued, adding that he then felt he could do better and wanted to try it again.

Soon after, he asked the head teacher at the junior high school for lessons. His one-on-one relationship with this teacher of the Japanese language, who is also knowledgeable about Chinese history and literature, was like the one depicted in the popular U.S. movie “The Karate Kid,” according to James.

The lessons continued for 13 years, even though James’ term at the school was for three years. He would travel to the teacher’s house and stay there almost every week — usually having a few drinks around the irori fire hearth after lessons. He continued to practice by corresponding with the teacher by mail while he and his Japanese wife, Miki, spent several years back in his home country.

James’ love and passion for calligraphy grew, and he now believes it is an excellent way to experience Japanese culture.

“Japanese people who practice calligraphy tend to be well educated, very interested in Japanese history and tradition. I’ve learned about and experienced a lot of Japanese culture through my friendships with Japanese calligraphers.”

James now works as a superintendent at a student dormitory of Tone Commercial High School in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture. He travels regularly to Saitama Prefecture for calligraphy lessons with Ryuha Matsuura, who was introduced to him by his teacher at Tsukiyono.

James and Matsuura belong to a Shohokai group led by Goju Ushikubo, an executive of the society who will perform calligraphy at the workshop.

James hopes the workshop will contribute to the continued development of calligraphy as a way of “opening another channel for international cultural exchange.”

Workshop to be held on Aug. 30

A Japanese calligraphy workshop for foreigners will be held on Aug. 30 in conjunction with a Tokyo exhibition by the Yomiuri Shohokai calligraphy society.

Calligraphers who are members of the society will provide lessons in English. Places are available for 40 foreigners of junior high school age or older. Admission is free but pre-registration is required.

The Yomiuri Shohokai’s Tokyo exhibition will be held from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

■ Date and time: Aug. 30, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

■ Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo, in the Roppongi district of Minato Ward, Tokyo

■ To apply, send a postcard with your name, address, gender, age, nationality and phone number to “Calligraphy Workshop” Section, Office of the Yomiuri Shohokai, The Yomiuri Shimbun, 100-8055. You can also apply by email to Applications must be submitted by July 31.

The workshop is organized by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shohokai and The Japan News, and is supported by CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations).

Tickets will be sent to workshop participants by mail in mid-August.Speech

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