It’s Hailing Calligraphy

by Leanne Ogasawara

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It was Tetsuya’s idea to start calligraphy lessons.

I had wanted to study Aikido. But according to Tetsuya, I was already dangerous enough. “And, anyway,” he said, “You know what Confucius said: the pen is mightier than the sword.”

“Confucius definitely did not say that.” I rolled my eyes.

His idea, however, grew on me. So, a few weeks later, the two of us found ourselves standing in front of a tidy, two-story home in suburban Hachioji. Located at the end of the Keio line, Hachioji is as far west as you can travel in Tokyo without arriving in Kanagawa Prefecture.

A few days before our first class, Tetsuya had a long consultation by phone with the teacher, Yufu-sensei, and it had been decided that I should be placed in the class with grammar school students, since at that point I only knew the kanji through 5th grade. When I tried to resist being in a class of kids, Tetsuya told me to get rid of my pride immediately or this won’t end well for you.

Anyway, he said, he would sit in the class with me to make sure I was okay. With that promise, I felt confident. Tetsuya had beautiful handwriting. He was already proficient at writing with brush and ink, though he told me that all he could manage was kaisho, the “square style” or “standard style.” Kaisho is the first style that shodō practitioners usually learn and master, he said.

The lessons were held on the second floor of the teacher’s home. A hush fell over the room as we entered. Not only were adults joining the kids’ class but one of those adults was not Japanese. Definitely not Japanese.

The children just stared in disbelief. Read more »

Calligraphy in the Garden

Star Gazing Tower 望星樓, which is the highest point in the garden and affords sweeping views of Mt. Wilson and the observatory domes.

by Leanne Ogasawara

I went walking in a garden of poems. It was a perfect autumn day. And the garden, located within the confines of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, is said to be the finest classical garden outside of China. It is called the Garden of Flowing Fragrance 流芳園.

What is the flowing fragrance of beauty? Of virtue?

What is the fragrance of a perfect autumn day?

The Flowing Fragrance was inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private scholars’ gardens. With its many pavilions linked by courtyards and covered walkways surrounding the lotus-filled Lake of Reflected Fragrance, it is the perfect place to wander. Imagination on fire as you pause and notice the many works of calligraphy, integrated so beautifully in the garden, you might start to believe yourself walking inside a poem.

Each pavilion and bridge is adorned with evocative names. And there are snippets of verse found incised on rocks tucked in surprising corners of the garden amidst the flowering trees. Read more »