Modern-day Japan, especially in the cities, is tough. Long-work hours are accompanied by a work culture that believes in a somewhat voluntary overtime policy, which often extends into 100 hours of extra work on average. As the salarymen and women steal short naps on their commute to and from work, you wonder when and how they use their free-time. For a growing number of young people, Japanese Calligraphy is proving to be a popular way to de-stress.\nTwenty
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Modern-day Japan, especially in the cities, is tough. Long-work hours are accompanied by a
work culture that believes in a somewhat voluntary overtime policy, which often extends into
100+ hours of extra work on average. As the salarymen and women steal short naps on their
commute to and from work, you wonder when and how they use their free-time. For a
growing number of young people, Japanese Calligraphy is proving to be a popular way to de-
Twenty years ago, the art of Japanese Calligraphy was seen by most in Japan as an old
tradition, with no place in the technological age, save the aged experts, famous for their craft.
The youth were not interested in continuing the traditions, since the cellphone and PC had
started to become mainstream. Technology continued to improve and innovate at a mind-
numbing pace. In the last 10 years, many people in their 20’s and 30’s regretfully admitted
that their ability to write Kanji had withered compared to their parents. Typing on a phone or
laptop forego the need to remember brush-strokes and layout.
As the pace of life increased here, so did the amount of stress and mental-health related
illnesses. Suicide rates were at an all-time high, the population started to decline and many
people turned to alcohol to relax. Social drinking is still one of the biggest pastimes for
people of working age, however some young people are turning back to old traditions, to
regain the peace and slowness of ancient times.
I spoke to Eri, who started Japanese Calligraphy with a friend a few years prior to our
meeting. She was always interested in art, but she enjoyed the way Japanese Calligraphy
helped her to relax. ‘Time passes slowly when you are drawing.’ She explained, ‘Japanese
Calligraphy makes time slow down, especially when you’ve had a week so busy you couldn’t
even look at the clock to see if time was still running.’
When she started, there were few people in her class. These days, Japanese Calligraphy
classes are available in most prefectures and in the highly populated towns there are
sometimes waiting lists to join. The clientele have also changed. In the 1980’s, any
calligraphy class would likely be made up of long-retired men, or their housewives using the
class to reminisce and spend time out of the house. Recently, younger housewives, workers
and even their children come to these classes; to learn about the culture and history, to create
their own art and to take a break from the modern world.
At hotels and Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Guesthouses) Shodo is sometimes offered to
guests to have a taster session with a professional. Watching the experts is almost as
enjoyable as trying it for yourself. Japanese Calligraphy is a time for contemplation, prayer
and quiet focus, as you let go of the world around you and speak with a paintbrush instead.
Japanese Calligraphy is famous and revered around the world, and now it seems Japanese
people are starting to fall in love with it again.