One of the things I really loved about being in Japan was seeing how much culture is embedded into daily life. I’m sorry to Americans everywhere, but we have no culture–not in the way that a country that’s existed for thousands of years like Japan does, at least. Everywhere I went, there were temples, shrines, women dressed in formal kimono and yukata, traditional food, and common phrases that all reminded me of how different Kyoto was from my home. I love to learn more about these customs whenever I can, and this semester I was able to when the Japanese club organized a short workshop to learn shodo, Japanese calligraphy.
Shodo is a traditional art form that most Japanese children are required to learn in elementary school, much like American kids take art classes. Kids can also choose to join a shodo club in high school, participate in national competitions, or study it in college. As with chado (Japanese tea ceremony), kitsuke (kimono wearing), and ikebana (flower arranging), many children take lessons after school or on the weekends, which helps to keep these highly traditional art forms alive.
That did mean, though, that all of the professors and exchange students who helped run the shodo workshop had far more experience than any of the American students. I had assumed that, since I’ve been doing art my whole life and I love to write kanji, I would be able to pick it up fairly easily. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. Writing complex kanji with a pencil is very different from using a stiff-bristled brush (held vertically, not slanted like a pencil) and ink, especially since stroke order is even more important with ink than it is with pencil. After practicing only a few characters and over for about an hour, I finally wrote out the kanji for yuki (courage) and signed my name on the sign.
My kanji weren’t the prettiest in class (I heard that one of the exchange students had actually won several shodo competitions in Japan), I really enjoyed getting a taste of this beautiful art form. In the future, I would love to practice more so that I can fully appreciate shodo.