THERE are poets and there are calligraphers. Artists in their own right. To put together words that roll out smoothly off your tongue as you read it out loud, with symmetry, rhythm, like a song without music, is an art form. Oriental calligraphy is the same. A single character created with represent an entire concept. It can be deceiving to us who are unfamiliar with the art. What actually looks easy is not.
Do you know anyone adept in both the art of poetry and calligraphy? One who can marry the two art forms?
In Tokyo, I chanced upon a museum at the Tokyo International Forum and discovered one of these rare artists— Mitsuo Aida (1924-1991), a poet and a calligrapher. In fact, the museum is named after him. It was established in 1996 in Ginza then moved to its current location.
Mitsuo Aida was known as The Poet of Zen, because his work was influenced by Zen Buddhism. Ningen damono (Because I’m Human), Okagesan (Our Debt to Others), and Inochi ippai (Live a Full Live) are his popular works.
He was attracted to short poems (tanka) and brush-and-ink calligraphy when he was in middle school during WWII. He pursued his poetry writing after graduation under the supervision of Mutsu Yamashita. He eventually met a Zen Priest, Tetsurou Takei, who became his mentor. He soon established his original style based on My Words My Writing and produced numerous artworks. It was in 1954 when he held is first exhibition in Ashikaga.
A museum dedicated to exhibiting calligraphy, how does it work? Every time Mitsuo Aida Museum mounts a show it highlights the works of the artist from different perspectives. For instance, the exhibition I caught has the theme of “Why did you put your poems into calligraphy?”
Unfortunately, my appreciation of this art form is limited. I cannot read Japanese text nor I can understand what the figures on walls meant. But I saw the black and white framed works alluring. I see discipline, I see flowing characters. Clearly it will take years to master shuji, or the Japanese artistic writing. It requires skills and dedication.
To appreciate his Oriental art form, it may be good to know the about the craft. I asked Oj Hofer, a certified Japanese Calligraphy professor from Cebu.
“While Western (letters) calligraphy uses a quill, Oriental calligraphy uses a brush, which is a more complicated instrument. The technique and dynamics is different. You rely on the pressure of the brush to create prints - the tip of the brush to create light prints and apply pressure to use the middle of the brush to create thicker prints. The hand of the calligrapher will have to float steadily on paper and should know how to enter and exit each stroke, applying necessary pressure to achieve the variations of thickness and width,” he said.
When doing calligraphy, the state of mind is to be fluid. And whatever your mood is, like happiness or nervousness, it will show in the strokes.
In Oriental calligraphy, one character can represent several words or an entire concept. It can take as much as 16 strokes to complete a character, and the order of the strokes matter. When you write a character, you know how to know the order.
“On aesthetics, Calligraphy is the highest art form in the oriental world,” Oj said.
To the layperson like me, who is not knowledgeable in Japanese text, Oj said, “Enjoy it as an art form. Look at it like abstract art. A character can be appreciated without understanding its meaning.” That’s what I have been doing all the time.
To get there: Mitsuo Aida Museum is at Tokyo International Forum B1, 3-5-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Closest access is via the Yurakucho Line Subway (exit D5 and take underground concourse) and the JR Line’s Yurakucho Station (exit International Forum exit)
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