When you visit a country as a tourist you don’t often have time to take part in local crafts but spending 3 weeks in Tokyo gave me the chance to try Calligraphy. I found a school called True Japan Tours who were really helpful in arranging 2 tutors for me, Mieko Osada and Koichiro Yamada for 3 1:1 workshops. Travelling across Tokyo is a challenge but I manage to get to the venue in plenty of time and was introduced to my first teacher, Mieko, the calligraphy teacher.
She explained Shodo, which means the way of writing and how it originated from China and came over to Japan at the same time as Buddhism.
I wish I could remember everything she told me but here’s the parts that resonated with me. The calligraphy brushes are very soft and made from rabbit or sheep. She emphasised that the animals were not killed to make brushes, I thought of you Nicki when she told me that. She also said that often artists will collect their own baby’s hair to make super soft brushes.
How to sit is important, your back should be upright, your body positioned a fist away from the table and the brush should be held in a vertical position. I can’t remember all the different kinds of strokes so I’d like to learn more when I get back to Britain. I found the whole experience meditative, especially as you have to pause, take a deep breath before adding any brush strokes to the special paper. Also you can’t go back over a stroke and there’s a particular direction the symbols must be written. There are over 50,000 kanji characters to learn, school children are taught just 2000. For Westerners with an alphabet of only 26 characters it’s a daunting prospect.
But Mieko made it easy and asked me to select a character. I wanted to write the symbol for LOVE but it was too complex so I chose LIGHT, which is the Italian translation of my name, Elene. I loved writing this word and after lots of practice attempts, I was presented with a beautiful gold framed board to work on. Mieko had translated the sound of my name too and I wrote that with a fine brush. A stamp mark was applied to the bottom right of my work, the red colour balancing the black letter perfectly.
I was so relaxed, which was a good thing because I was sure that origami was going to more challenging but Koichiro explained the art of paper folding was all about having fun. So we did have fun, I made a box, a ninja star, a business card holder and a Japanese crane. I was so keen to learn how to make the bird as I’d tried before and just couldn’t get the mountain and valley crease idea.
Fortunately the only technical term mentioned was make sure your fold kisses the corner!
I made 2 cranes, a bright green one and one from purple paper with angel motifs. I was told that Barrack Obama donated 4 cranes to the Peace Museum at Hiroshima, he’d folded them himself. The crane is a symbol of peace and I hope to see them when I go to Hiroshima next week.
Koichiro also told me that every crane you make will be different and not to worry about being perfect. He had a wonderful gift for me which was a ring of 4 cranes folded from one piece of paper, stunning. When I showed Sumire back at the apartment she was determined to make one herself, and she did, she’s so talented. I’ve been practicising making cranes all morning, I can’t make them yet without following instructions but hopefully by the time I pick up the Trans-Siberian I’ll be an expert crane maker. I hope to leave a crane at every station to spread peace and light throughout Mongolian and Siberia.
And now for a spot of Furoshiki, cloth wrapping. My favourite thing was wrapping a wine bottle. I can’t wait to give my first wrapped bottle of Chardonnay to one of my friends. The origin of Furoshiki was that people made cloth bags to take their clothes and soaps to the public baths over 500 years ago. It’s a simple practice with only 2 types of knots, single and double, there’s no right or wrong and its all about being creative. We made hats, bags, pouches, carriers for square water melons. Yes, they do grow these in Japan but according to Koichiro they’re expensive and the melons don’t taste too good.
At the end of my 3 hours with these 2 great sensai, I was presented with a gift from True Japan Tours, a wonderful deep burgundy cloth with a temple motif. What a wonderful surprise and an amazing end to a remarkable day,