Monday, August 17, 2015

Day 31/32 - Daimonji gozan Okuri-bi and Calligraphy Workshop

Day 31

A Japanese cemetary in the front
Although we only stay four weeks in Kyoto altogether, we are lucky enough to attend two of the four most important annual events. After Matsuri in mid July, "Daimonji gozan Okuri-bi" is the final day and highlight of the o-bon festival week in mid August. In five minute steps from 8 p.m. on in the evening, five big bonfires were set on top of five mountains in Kyoto's northwest, north and northeast. Big means really big - the bonfires are about 70 meters wide and long. The biggest one is the one on Daimonji mountain, that we climbed on day 29. The picture was shot with a telephoto lens (very far away), the big fire in the middle must have been about five meters high! The Japanese character "dai" was explained in the post "Day 25". Together with three other characters or symbols (the dai is displayed twice), the bonfires shall guide the spirits of the dead back to the Buddhist Pure Land. As mentioned earlier, o-bon is the week of the dead spirits, where the graves are cleaned up and families come together to visit the graveyards.

Day 32
After a night of very heavy rain, my father and I biked to the same workshop organisation to attend a calligraphy class, where I attended an ikebana (or kado) class on day 27. We arrived a little early, but the lovely woman from my ikebana class invited us in, and introduced us to our calligraphy teacher. I certainly was impressed about Japanese thoughts behind shodo again. Shodo, the way to write. Japanese is written in kanji, hiragana or katakana. Kanji are about 2500 different characters from traditional Chinese, that are used very often in newspapers or if you just want to save space. Hiragana is the regular Japanese syllable character writing manner (ca. 60 symbols), and Katakana is a phonetic syllable alphabet that is used for non-Japanese words (ca. 50 symbols). Usually, calligraphy is done with kanji characters. For western names there is either a direct translation, or characters are chosen that sound like a syllable of the western name sounds - which means that a western name translated into Kanji might mean something complete different to a Chinese or Japanese.  

As Japanese calligraphy is a traditional form of art, there's a lot more background as you expect when you see the persons doing shodo. Click here to see a clip about a local Kyoto shodo artist or an article about her, Tomoko Kawao. For novices, her act might seem a little exaggerated - but I might have looked equally focused and exerted in today's lesson. There's so much concentration needed, because once you started a stroke, there's no way back. You need a lot of background information, how to hold the brush, how to make the ink, which tools to use, how to start and finish a stroke. After each stroke I was so exhausted, because all my sense capacities were used up. You have to feel the wind, every sound, the temperature, have to look at your paper and move the body with the brush, all together. The feeling you get after each stroke is breathtaking, because while moving, you never know what will happen, you never know how the result will look like. So many feelings come up, from disappointment and embarrassment or pure happiness and pride. A very meditative effect that could help as a hobby after a long working day. I certainly have to buy a shodo set to practice!

First line from left to right:
- our teacher's step by step instruction, stroke order and direction for a character meaning "Japan" or "circle" (formal style)
- My version of "peace" (formal style)
- My version of "wind" (relaxed, fast style) - quite relevant for a fan
Second line from left to right:
- My very first character "river"
- My version of "Japan" or "circle"
- My version of "winter"
- My version of "Aurelia" (sound character order: right top - right bottom - left top - left bottom)
My feet for size comparison

My father's and my fan with relaxed / fast style "wind" character

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