Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kakizome/The First Calligraphy of the New Year

Kakizome takes place on the second day of the new year. Individually or in groups, people all across Japan get down on their hands and knees to write the first calligraphy of the year. Wikipedia says something like you're supposed to draw water from the well to add to the ink. However, I've always heard that traditionally people collected dew from some leaf and used that to mix with the ground ink/sumi. Either way, we used bottled ink, as do most kids who aren't in serious lessons.

So, every school child must write dozens of these kakizomes and submit their best work to their teacher after the holidays. All of these are then sent to local competitions and judged. Not only school kids but teens, adults, older adults, everyone loves their First Calligraphy of the Year!

The characters written are auspicious phrases or something relating to the New Year. Stuff like Long Life, New Year, Hope. J's phrase (to be written by all sixth graders) was the Seven Herbs of Spring.

Since we don't have tatami mat in our house, and I don't want to think of what would happen when a container of ink is knocked over onto my carpet, J usually writes on the kitchen table. It's a little awkward but he prefers it to sitting on his knees for an hour or so.

On the left is the characters he's supposed to write, haru no nana kusa. All the children recieve an example to try and copy as best as possible. On the right, you can see the long white sheet held down by a metal paper weight and then the ink on the bottom right.

Here he is getting ready.

Dipping the brush in ink.

And the first attempt, the first stroke.
I studied calligraphy, shuji/shodo, for several years and I can attest it is a bazillion times more difficult that it looks. We're talking stroke order, balance, where to apply pressure and where to let up, what strokes to hook, stop, or trail off, you don't only look at the black characters but the white space too.

I don't know who these people are below, but this is a really good video showing how kakizome is supposed to be done. And look at how many attempts they made! All of them first rate as far as I'm concerned.


Mary Witzl said...

This is really nostalgia-inducing! My eldest daughter did kakizome every year at her school. Ideally, you are supposed to produce a pile of your calligraphic efforts equal to your own height, but she invariably turned out a few indifferent scrawls, almost always managed to spill her ink (we didn't grind ours either, though I have an ink stone and all the other tools), and then failed to clean up after herself. The really galling thing is that she is a natural. I took a calligraphy class and really applied myself, but my lazy kid is ten times better than I am and always managed to get a bronze medal -- which she never appreciated. If she'd tried, she could have managed a gold.

Or so I tell myself, fond parent that I am...

Kappa no He said...

OMG, she actually won something for her shuji. I am impressed! Really impressed. J, while so much better than me, isn't really into the shuji thing. He managed to write about five before his grandfather suddenly showed up and they ran off together.

If she got a bronze with little effort, she easily could have won first place. Don't suppose you have any shuji teachers in your area...this might be something that she appreciates later and decides to delve into again.

Mary Witzl said...

I live in hope, but I've given up nagging her about it. Life is just too short, and the number of things I already nag her about is already far too many.

The only possible shuji teachers we have around here are two Chinese people over 40 minutes away who are purported to be okay at calligraphy and sometimes take on students. If I were a real kyoiku mama, I'd have pushed this hard a few years back. Now all I can do is hope that some day she'll see the light and start pushing herself! But I'm not holding my breath...

Ello said...

That's very cool! My father is awesome at calligraphy. Can even do the hard Chinese letters. I can barely write my name in Korean.

Kappa no He said...

Mary: Oh, the "teen" years. Mine son is fast approaching his. I imagine nothing really gets listened to during the teens. I failed miserably at being a kyoiku mama myself. I saw some friends' kids wind up messed up by their mothers' over-assertive kyoiku mama-ness.

ello: I had a Chinese teacher once who recieved her doctorate in Chinese calligraphy. Man, I loved watching her write. Korean is cool. At work I try to decipher the newletters the Korean lady writes. All very complicated.

Ello said...

And yet it is supposed to be one of the easiest of the Asian languages to learn to read and write in because it is very simple. I just am no good at it. The Chinese calligraphy is really amazing!

Virginia Lee said...

*Virginia Lee reads the above in awe and nods silently. Then she tiptoes away on size 10 feet that given a chance would doubtless destroy tatami and paper walls when she gracelessly loses her balance.*


It's a good thing you have carpet, hon. :D

Kappa no He said...

ello: I didn't know that about the Korean language being so simple.

Virginia: Oh, I've destroyed many a tatami mat and put many a hole is a paper door. Then there was the time I dropped a piece of something into a saucer of soy sauce making every woman dressed in kimono around me shriek in terror and run for the forks.