Calligraphy gets a brush-up

February 14th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

Apart from writing New Year’s cards once a year, most adult Japanese rely on computers to help them write out complex Chinese characters (kanji), meaning many forget how to write them by hand. This has had a detrimental effect on the traditional craft of shodo (calligraphy), which, until recently, was steadily losing popularity among Japanese. But artists who’ve been giving shodo a fashionable spin and popular dramas about the craft have led to a quiet revival.

Suitou Nakatsuka, for instance, is a self-styled “calligraphy space designer.” In addition to practicing traditional calligraphy, she creates modern calligraphy artworks live at fashionable parties, has decorated a munny doll, digital weather reports and her own collection of Arita-ware pottery. Her work has appeared on TV and in various fashion magazines like Can Can. In December last year she released a calligraphy work book for beginners who might want to take up the craft.

Live calligraphy painting is also practiced by artist Kotaro Hachinohe, who uses a camera inside his brush during performances. This performance in Sapporo last year (above) shows him creating an artwork to a jazz soundtrack. He doesn’t limit himself to using traditional washi paper but has used walls and even the interior of a tent as a canvas.

Calligraphy as performance art is an idea that reverberated in the 2010 movie “Shodo Girls!!” in which a high school calligraphy club shakes things up at the national Koshien competition. An NHK TV drama series titled “Tomehane Suzuru High School Shodo Club,” an adaptation of a popular manga of the same name, also came out last year and is thought to have inspired many young Japanese to take up the craft.

In a recent interview on J-Cast TV, Fumiko Ota, the editor of shodo magazine “Sumi” (ink), said that people were attracted to shodo because it involved taking time to do something carefully, taking time out for themselves. The magazine is now celebrating its 35th year with a special Jan./Feb. edition aimed at riding the wave of the shodo trend. The edition features tips for beginners as well as a special DVD featuring performances from the country’s top calligraphy artists.

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