Woman doing calligraphy with a huge brush

Experience the Meditative Effects of Shodō – Japanese Calligraphy – in Kansai

When daily news and the outside world get to be too crazy, try Shodō (書道), Japanese calligraphy, to regain inner equilibrium and calm the mind and heart. Japanese Sho calligraphy do the way, is one Zen practice, same as art of tea ceremony (sado), flower arranging (ikebana), Japanese fencing on swords (kendo) and other fighting arts (budо). Experience Shodō’s meditative and relaxing qualities in a workshop or field trip with Kobe Native Noriko Ukita who has been teaching Shodō to Japanese and foreigners alike for 27 years.

“I love the smell of sumi. I love the black and white world. I can relax and concentrate when I’m doing Shodō,” she said at a class at Community House Information Center in Kobe where she introduces foreigners to the joys of Shodō materials, such as brushes (fude), ink stones (suzuri), and ink (sumi), the paper weight (bunchin), and the brush rest (fudeoki). Ukita lets students explore the delicate world of washi and rice paper and their different types and uses, all beautiful in themselves, as each Shodō piece is, revealing the unique style of each artist. 

The ability to slow down and practice the mindful meditative and calming art of calligraphy is to bring life into balance once again. Working with the eight basic types of brush strokes and dots of varied thickness, students work to create a piece that is a blend of balance and harmony with strong strokes and delicate lines. It is also one way leading to the comprehension of life’s meaning and eternal truths. It has been a process to let go of pre-established concepts and strive for makoto–genuineness, sincerity and loyalty to nature and to oneself. 

Supplies for calligraphy

Traditional ways of calligraphic symbols transfer are laconic: they are written on a white paper which personifies emptiness in Zen philosophy, and black signs on a white background seams concepts of Yin and Yang as female and man’s origins.

Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, Richard Baker writes in the forward that, “The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment.”

And its not just meditative effects, but intelligence as well that come from handwriting as you use the hand and learn some Kanji symbols. Studies show that handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading and may facilitate reading acquisition in young children. (James & Engelhardt). Even Maria Montessori emphasized the use of the hand, which she says in her book The Absorbent Mind, is used to express one's thoughts, emotions, and intellect. “...we must provide (the child) with things on which he can exercise an intelligent activity.”

In addition to her regular day and evening classes around Kobe, Ukita has held special Shodō events throughout the year with, including creating a washi paper kimono art collage, a big brush Shodō experience, and going on field trips to contemporary Shodō exhibits in the Kansai region.

Shodō afficionados can appreciate not just the beauty of learning Kanji strokes, brushes and washi paper when practicing Japanese calligraphy with Ukita, but the ink as well. Sumi ink sticks are a staple of Japanese traditional writing and are not just for writing, but are known for their quality traditional artisan craftsmanship, smoothness and earthy scent that contributes to a mindful experience. 

For this reason, Ukita’s field trips also include taking students to Shodō shops and to Kinkoen in Nara for a Sumi Gripped Black Ink Experience with Bokuen Nagano, a 6th Generation Ink Artisan. Established 150 years ago in Nara you can experience the sense of ancient Japan at Kinkoen as you shape raw black ink in your own hands. Watching Nagano-san makes you deeply appreciative of the time put into this traditional art. 

A natural storyteller, Nagano relates the history of sumi ink and how sumi is made. He first demonstrates the kawarage, an earthenware pot where soot from the resin of burned pine accumulated on the lid and is scrapped off. These pines are collected from forest groves near Nara and Suzuka, prized for their high quality of ink.

Animal gelatin, nikawa,  is added as a binding agent before it is kneaded by hand and then placed into molds, then dried for 1-5 weeks with ash or naturally in 3-6 months. Gold or silver leaf or coloring can be added. After the demonstration and storytelling, participants get to grip their own ball of prepared sumi ink, enjoying the sensual squeeze of the sumi in the palm and on fingers, before decorating it with gold leaf, then handing it over to be placed in a Paulownia wooden box to be used as ink, a paperweight, or brush rest.

Interpreter and Shodo Teacher Noriko Ukita is available for classes and tours. 

Contact: phone number: 090-9996-8810

E-mail address: norikou1125@yahoo.co.jp

Noriko Ukita’s Shodō Class Schedule:

At CHIC: Wednesdays 10:30- 12:00, Thursdays 18:30-20:00, Friday 10:30-12:00

In Shioya: Thursdays 10:30-12:00

Cost per class: 2500¥ 

Cost for materials: First time experience materials are free. For Shodo materials in a series 4,800¥.

Kinkoen Gripped Ink Experience Details

Website: Kinkoen.

Address: 547 Sanjo-cho, Nara City, Nara Pref. Japan

Phone: 0742-22-3319

Hours: 9:00 a.m.-7 p.m

Cost: 15oo ¥ + tax, includes Paulownia wooden box. Credit cards accepted.

Access: By Train 3-minute walk from JR Nara Station.

10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.

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