On my way to my first ever Japanese calligraphy class I wondered why I had changed into light colour capri pants before leaving my apartment. Luckily, I managed to keep the gorgeous black ink on the paper and off of my pants. Actually, it was more than a calligraphy class. I had signed up for the Experience Japanese Culture 3-Hour Workshop offered on Wednesdays at The Kampo Cultural Centre (Kyoto). The calligraphy class was led by Hiroko, and yesterday there was just one other student, a young Russian woman living in Holland. Neither of us had done calligraphy before, but we were taken through the 8 basic strokes and began with writing Ei (the character for eternity). This was pretty exciting, as I had read a slender, beautiful book on Japanese calligraphy over the winter (a gift from my boyfriend) and had read about this very thing—learning the basic strokes and making the Ei. Quickly but smoothly, we moved on to the characters for Happiness, Love, and Beauty. I really enjoyed using the brush and the ink; it gave me a taste of what it means to practice calligraphy as an art.
After calligraphy came tea ceremony. The other student only took the calligraphy segment, so I was a private student for the rest of the workshop. I had received tea ceremony at the zen buddhist temple of Daisen-in a couple of weeks ago, so it was not totally new, but it was wonderful and interesting to see all the special ritual rules. First, I was instructed by Hiroko (a kind and patient teacher) to eat the sweet.
Then she put the matcha powder in the tea bowl (known as the chawan), added water, and whisked it. She explained about how to hold the bowl and how to turn it. She also said the tea should be drunk in 2 or 3 sips. It was quite interesting to prepare the tea myself under Hiroko’s tutelage and to offer the bowl to her to drink. I thought about the poem I had written called In the Tea Garden and wondered where it had come from—the feeling of it is connected with tea ceremony although I don’t think I had heard of it at the time I wrote the poem. I had the impression, whisking the green powder into the water, that I had done it before. However, that didn’t seem to mean that I was particularly good at it now! Altogether, it was an interesting experience.
I especially enjoyed doing flower arranging with the yellow freesia in a style known as misyoruyu. My teacher provided a kind of classic formula for the arrangement that I made. For example, the height of the first flower stalk “A” was to be twice the length of the shallow bowl plus the height of the bowl; the height of flower “B” was to be 3/4 the height of “A”. Those of you who know me well would guess that this algebraic approach would intrigue me—however, there was room for intuition in achieving balance and harmony in the composition.
Over and over during this trip I find myself reflecting on the relationship between structure (rules & rigidity) and freedom (individuality & spontaneity) in many realms: creative, aesthetic, societal…. and finally, in the choices we each make in our lives and the shapes our lives become. I appreciated the opportunity to go a little deeper, by actually practicing, as a pure beginner, these three Japanese traditions.
[The Kampo Center put up a picture of me on their blog. Check it out by clicking here.]