The old Nozawa photos yesterday got me thinking about the hours of practice, the reams of paper and rivers of ink that characterized my study of Japanese calligraphy. Like many of the traditional Japanese arts, for the serious student, dedication to long practice is essential, and something I never imagined before picking up a brush.
An interest in Japan came late to me, somewhere in my mid-20s, and it first came in the shape of brush writing I found in books, and soon after in museums. I had a job shelving books at the local library and so soon learned to associate the 900 numbers on a book’s spine with Japan. My first experience of stopping to look closely at one of these 900 books came with a book full of Japanese calligraphy. Unable to read even the tiniest part, its fluid beauty captivated me, and I wondered at the possibility of learning how to write such elegant “words.”
Calligraphy was only the beginning, and several years later here I was in Japan and among other things, looking for a teacher. A couple of weeks after moving into the old house in Komae, I asked around and learned that a calligraphy teacher lived at the other end of the street. And so, I met Motohashi-sensei.
For two hours each Saturday over the next eight years, I sat with cramped legs, along with two other students under the watchful eye of Motohashi-sensei, writing and rewriting countless hundreds of times basic Chinese characters and Japanese kana. Each week there was a new assignment, something meant to be practiced diligently at home. It was a slow and often grueling process and just when it seemed I was getting it right, showing some modest panache, the teacher would toss it aside soaked in her orange corrections and encourage me to try again.
Some years later my teacher moved to an area about two hours distant, and the Saturday lessons became a six-hour affair—two there, two studying, and two hours back home. I managed to stick with it another two years before saying goodbye to those faraway lessons. Regretfully, after the years of regular study and practice, I ended my formal study and gradually even stopped practicing.
In the years since, there have been occasions when I inked a brush and wrote some pages, but I no longer have the strong urge, that first desire to write with brush and ink that was born in the 900 aisle of the public library.