Japan: mark making


One of my first learnt lessons in design school has its roots in ancient calligraphy practice: in making the first mark on the page one must be focused yet relaxed, strong yet graceful and full of purpose. Though there’s a plan, one also yields to the will of the paper, the ink, the dexterity of one’s body (calligraphy is often done kneeling or upright—with gusto!). It is meditative and relaxing. There is a start and a stop. Practicing drawing ancient characters one cold, windy evening in a traditional Tokyo studio gave us a glimpse into an ancient cultural tradition, a rich experience we will never forget. Thank you, Ten-You for your patience, gentleness and hospitality. To learn more about Ten-You, check out her site!

Tokyo is not the best place to buy calligraphy, paper or stationery supplies, however it is supposedly much less expensive than in Kyoto. In Kyoto one finds many traditional craftsmen still committed to paper-making and calligraphy and the city was flush with cozy shops selling goods for both the amateur and professional. I aim to continue my practice and so I procured a brush, ink tray and ink block in a small Kyoto shop a few days later. Finally, I selected some rice paper on which to inscribe one of my favorite Japanese phrases that I’ve spent much of these last few weeks pondering, Ichi-go ichi-e.

lines-on-paperWe made lines for about 15 minutes before we could move on to circles.

JAP_11_0136-smReviewing the ancient characters, Kodai-moji,  from which the modern Kanji is based.

JAP_11_0137-smEven mixing the ink was meditative: small, deliberate circles, with slight pressure until we had enough to make our marks

JAP_11_0142-composite-smThe final creations: Graeme drew the character for “deer”. Mine is “bread”

JAP_11_0146-smI’ve learned that this is true Japanese style: group photo at the end of a workshop


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