Are you interested in calligraphy? Actually, I am not so much either writing or appreciating letters. But I like the atmosphere of its exhibitions. This might sound contradictory but calligraphy exhibitions have both energetic and calm airs. It was the end of last month when a friend of mine and I went to see the Mainichi Shodo Exhibition at Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art. My friend’s sister showed one of her calligraphies at the exhibition, too.
It was the 66th Mainichi Shodo Exhibition. They began in 1948 three years after the end of World War II. I think they decided, despite many difficulties to hold the exhibition in the chaos of the post-war period, when people were still struggling for their lives. They also struggled to hand over the torch of Japan’s calligraphy culture to the post-war generation.
There are many kinds of calligraphy in Japan. In fact, the Mainichi Shodo Exhibition has nine categories: Chinese Character I (more than 21 letters), Chinese Character II (3 to 20 letters), Japanese kana Character I (more than 3 Japanese waka poems or more than 5 haiku poems), Japanese kana Character II (1 or 2 Japanese waka poems or 1 to 4 haiku poems), modern poetic calligraphy, large character calligraphy, seal engraving, wood carving, and avant-garde calligraphy (they are not “letters” anymore…) The exhibition had 8 rooms and more than 1200 works this year.
To tell the truth, I cannot understand them when I look at calligraphies. I cannot tell a big difference between one which has received a prize and another one which has not. They look almost the same for me as letters written in black ink on the white paper…So, I usually walk around the big exhibition place, looking up at calligraphies with my mouth open, and then get tired and become a zombie two hours later. But the situation was different this year. I joined a guided tour.
Some judges picked up some exhibits and explained them. Especially, Mr. Tosen Sato’s lecture was interesting. According to him, the most important thing is to think about the composition carefully. In his case, it takes him nearly half a year to decide the structural outline for showing a work at an exhibition. Then he writes letters on the paper only two or three times. He said, “You don’t need to waste much paper,” and showed some classic works by an ancient calligrapher. There were many lines on the examples like engineering drawings. He studies many things, such as angles, from those classics. I was very surprised at his lecture because I had thought that they must have written letters from their hearts…It seems that you have to “calculate” to make something look beautiful…Some calligraphy works looked different after the guided tour!