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  • Writer's pictureTomas Ballada

Gakuensai (学園祭) - report

Event for teachers, students and everyone else

Our front door sign giving off a welcoming spring vibe

This month we held an event called "Gakuensai," or a "School Festival," with the aim being to provide an opportunity not only for students from various classes across different calligraphy fields to come together and see the fruits of each other`s study, as well as have a look at a wide variety of teacher`s works and last but not least - for the general public and anyone interested in Japanese calligraphy. The event culminated on Sunday with various teachers giving commented tours providing insight into the works displayed and the finer aspects of the art (each Sensei specialising in one particular area, for example kana, kanji or penji).

One room was wholly dedicated to the "Fude asobi" programme, where various types of often unconventional brushes were laid on the tables and it was possible to try them out. They mostly differed in the material from which their tip was made, ranging from a peacock, hair from a cow`s ear, a squirrel, rat or a wildcat to brushes with tips made from materials not related to animals, for example bamboo or igusa (a special kind of grass used to make tatami, traditional Japanese mats).

Each of those unusual brushes provided a completely different writing experience, unlike that with your run-of-the-mill types. For example, the tip made out of swan feathers was extremely soft and as such unpredictable, giving however a very original expression and feeling to each stroke. In other words it wasn`t easy to write even the simplest characters with it, however, one was able to achieve a form of artistic expression that would have been impossible with a standard brush.

Some of the unusual brushes prepared for the Fude Asobi programme

Three classrooms were dedicated to the calligraphy exhibition. One was dedicated solely to the works of our teachers, with at least one work representing each of the calligraphy styles being taught at our school. Those ranged from the standard calligraphy to pen calligraphy, Jitsumu shodo and/or Tenkoku (the art of carving out a calligraphy seal). Another two rooms were full of various works of students and also the staff. Anyone who wanted was able to submit their work, regardless of their level, and as such works of both beginners and experts of various disciplines could be seen displayed side by side.

Visitors were able to see the works of our teachers...


...and our staff members.

While the exhibit was open from 9:30 to 18:00 starting with Saturday and ending on Tuesday, and it was possible to go and view anytime, on Sunday we had three commented tours where an expert in one of the three main areas (Kana / Kanji and Kan-kana / Penji) that were present would give a detailed explanation as pertains to each of the works displayed and explain some of the general rules applying to the discipline at hand. For example with Kana shodo there are several important rules of the thumb that make it kana shodo. One is the presence of so-called hentaigana (変体仮名) - a version of hiragana that is unusual or obsolete and used almost exclusively in calligraphy nowadays (which also implies that without proper training it`s hard or almost impossible to read even for Japanese). Another one is "chirashi gaki" (散らし書き) where you have a significant amount of space between the individual columns, and usually the work is divided into two halves (with a rather wide blank space in between). Then there is the overall balance, where the individual columns are not aligned, but rather start and end in different heights. The teacher who was commenting the tour said that for her it`s especially tasteful if the middle is aligned to the top and sides are lower, thus giving the work the impression of a mountain (when looking at the shape from a distance).

Hanada-sensei, a kanji expert, gives a commented tour...

...and there is no shortage of people eager to listen to his interpretation.

Last but not least, there were also calligraphy demonstrations by Niikura-sensei and Hanada-sensei, where one could admire the skills of two top-notch masters showing kana and kanji writings respectively. Both were done on a hansetsu paper, which is significantly longer than hanshi, thus making it more demanding to write and maintain the proper balance between the characters and within the work itself. On their way back our guests could visit "Ikkyuen," a specialised brush shop from Hiroshima that came specifically for the occasion and offered its brushes with a 20% discount (Hiroshima area is famous for its calligraphy brushes, which are highly sought after by many top calligraphers throughout the country).

Niikura- sensei writing kana shodo.

Hanada- sensei`s kanji exhibition.

Ikkyuen - the brush shop from Hiroshima.

Although the event officially finished on 27th March (Tuesday) and the calligraphy works are no longer freely displayed, our doors remain open to anyone who is interested in knowing more about this ancient and entertaining art.

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