Kanji and the art of calligraphy

The Japanese name for calligraphy is sho do, which most directly translates as “way of writing”.

I really want to go to Japan but not because I want to go on vacation. I want to go for the Imperial Gardens and the tasty noodles. You could say that I am utterly fascinated with this country and its culture.

Which is sad because it seems to be ultra trendy right now. As if Japan is so huge in America (not, I’m so huge in Japan). I guess this makes me a yuppster (hipster, yuppy) or just a really big dork.

Either way, I’m going full bore into the hole starting with learning the language. Having recently become bilingual (english/spanish) I’m feeling very haughty right now. It feels like any language no matter how complicated is within my grasp.

They key is knowing how to get into it. In high school they figured this was memorizing the alphabet and taking lots of vocab tests. Which failed even after  5+ years of Spanish classes. In the end what worked for me, believe it or not, was reading the newspaper out loud.

For about 6 months I read two newspapers from Spain that I subscribed to on my Kindle. In the beginning my comprehension was so limited that I barely knew the topic of each article. Then I started reading each one out loud and it clicked.

I suddenly began thinking in Spanish and my comprehension shot through the roof. In fact, it reached a tipping point where I just know Spanish and its not like how they say that if you don’t practice you lose it. Spanish is a part of me and I occaisonally do random things, like daydream in Spanish or randomly converse with people in Spanish.

This was pretty funny at first because I didn’t know I was doing it and I would get all embarrassed. Then I got into it and just went with it. It really is cool to have folks think you are a foreigner, or escape American drudgery by randomly talking with someone in Spanish.

The best book out there for Japanese calligraphy (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

With this newfound success I’m attacking Japanese and the key is calligraphy. The ancient art of writing things down. For some reason the Chinese and Japanese elevated writing to a high art form and they get all crazy about it. The book I ordered is teaching me about the “Four Treasures” and the cheap calligraphy set I ordered has meticulous detail on every piece.

In some ways it feels like painting, you know that feeling you get when focusing intently on making something beautiful envelops your mind pushing out all other distractions. But, there is no color and it’s all about technique. Hold the brush vertical, descend onto the paper at a 45 degree angle, slightly turn the brush, and lift off.

That makes a dot. A simple dot (called a ten). It’s the most basic of all moves and it requires four steps, a degree change, and a turn. Complicated but not hard. It’s more like an entry into a world of perfection where the goal is not to get it done but to marvel in the mastery of even the simplest move.

I have to say I love it. All throughout the book are the words: meditation, peace, zen, focus, perfection. I get to take a break from computers and websites by banishing all from my mind except the ten.

All the way I am learning Japanese. I have these dreams now of visiting Japan and being able to read street signs and store fronts. For some reason it awes me to simply be able to read Japanese street signs…so weird.

No matter though, I am learning a language through enjoyment and fun. I have found my key.

My Shumi Calligraphy Set (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

calligraphy papers (photo at top) by matsuyuki

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