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A master in the art of calligraphy

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

Calligraphy is the ancient art of writing. It was practiced for centuries in Asia, with deep roots in many Islamic countries and in China. It has also been a part of western culture, and is today being studied by people all over the world. From Jan. 12 through Jan. 17, Master Japanese Calligrapher Choshin Nakamoto will hold an exhibition at Palette Kumoji's "Naha Citizen's Gallery", located in Naha.

Japanese calligraphy is an extension of Chinese culture, where upon it was brought to Japan and modified. The ancient Chinese alphabet consisted of characters, which resembled pictures, each one representing a certain meaning. This system of writing was borrowed by Japan, and was developed into the Japanese writing system of "kanji". Its close historical relationship with China's way of writing still remains, with many of the basic characters holding the same meaning in both countries, although they are spoken differently. Japan also created two other alphabets, "hiragana" and "katakana", which are often used together with "kanji".

Calligraphers were able to turn the writing system into beautiful works of art called "shodo" through the use of specific techniques of a brush with ink. The skill survives with many children learning the art of "shodo" at school, where it is taught across the nation.

Nakamoto related his beginnings with calligraphy over a friendly conversation at his home. "I started when I was in second grade, and I liked it from the start," he explained. "My teachers encouraged me, and it gave me the desire to try harder." The year was 1934, and Okinawa was mostly covered with farming and fishing villages. Nakamoto would walk to school from his home, which was located in the village of Kuwae in Chatan. Nearby was "Kuwae Eki", one of the old pre-war train stations that existed throughout Okinawa.

After the war, Nakamoto began studying "shodo" seriously at the age of twenty six. He practiced intensively, and gradually learned the different styles. Viewing printed pictures of his art work, he showed me some of the variations. "This is the "kanji" for flower. It is written this way by elementary school students, which is very easy to read." Pointing to another picture of the same character he said, "But this one is very different. It is harder to read, and the technique used to write it is much more difficult." There were deviations in the strokes, and in the thickness of the ink. "As you advance in level, the way you write the same "kanji" changes."

Continuing to look at the many types of writing, Nakamoto explained that there are also size differences in "shodo", and the amount of writing also varies greatly. A single character may take only a few strokes and it is finished, but a scroll filled with sentences can take many hours, possibly days.

"This way of writing is very old. It can't be read by the average person, and there are only a few people who can write these characters," pointed out Nakamoto about yet another style of writing.

"The most difficult aspect of shodo is learning how to use the brush," said Nakamoto. Each stroke is carefully done, with constant attention to the amount of pressure being added to the brush as it runs down the paper. The ink can spread in different directions, or barely be seen at all, making it especially difficult to perfect the delicate strokes. "Once you have mastered the brush, you begin to write with a rhythm. It is the same as music," he further explained.

The rhythm that Nakamoto refers to however, takes many years of practice. It begins with copying other work to learn the basics. Eventually, a calligrapher will begin to develop their own style, but there are always rules and boundaries which separate true "shodo" from just any kind of writing. During one's course of study there are different levels to pass through, finally culminating with "shihan" - the highest honor of "shodo". Nakamoto has been "shihan" for forty years, which gives you an idea of his experience and knowledge. "Even after reaching shihan, you are always learning," he explained.

Nakamoto still finds love and inner peace with "shodo" after practicing for over sixty years since he first touched a brush. "When I am writing I feel nothing - no worries and no emotions. I am totally relaxed," he said. "Shodo" is Nakamoto's passion.

You can see Nakamoto's work at Palette Kumoji (Ryubo Department Store), which is located at the south end of Kokusai Street, everyday until Jan. 17, from 10 am until 7 pm. Sunday's showing is until 5 pm. Nakamoto will be present on each day.

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