Chinese Characters have ancient roots, but appear surprisingly modern when made the focus of a town's character. Kitakata is a city in Fukushima that is trying to revive itself in the long wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with a unique approach that has captured the imagination of visitors, residents, and the media.
Here are some links to help you enjoy this revival of ancient Kanji. Even though some of these sites are in Japanese, you can still enjoy the appeal of the ancient kanji as graphic design and on signboards.
Video of ancient Kanji coming to life
Kitakata Kanji in the News
Translating Kanji and Sake into Tourism
Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
Read how the inspiration occurred in the legendary album jacket notes by Bill Evans.
An essential read for anyone interested not only in Calligraphy, but in the Way of learning and the purpose of practice of Chinese and Japanese traditional and martial arts. An excerpt from:
Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society, by Yuehping Yen
"But acquiring the brush techniques of a master's work is not the end of the story. Apart from the outward form, there are other things to be copied. If one can produce only writing which looks like that of a past master, one is scorned as a second-rate copyist, a collector of past masters' writing. This is certainly not enough to make a good calligrapher. According to Yao:
More important than linmo is to study the model work (dutie), so that you can learn how ancient masters organize the rhythm of brushstrokes. You also need to learn how they master the force, because even just a slight difference in force will result in enormous difference in what you write. Apart from brush techniques, force and rhythm, there is also the problems of tools and postures. You can hardly demand all of these factors to be the same as ancient masters, that is why it is easy to achieve similarity in form but hard to achieve the similarity in spirit (xingsi yi; shensi buyi).
He then drew the example of the three famous copies (moben) of Wang Xizhi's Orchid Pavilion Preface to prove his point: all these three copies adopted the method of tracing the outline of the original characters first then filling in with ink (shuanggou). But the differences in individual writing habits and tools, i.e. brushes with different animal hair, hair length and volume, explain the fact that these three copies in fact look very different. Therefore similarity in form does not guarantee the similarity in spirit or shen.
What imbues calligraphy with life is its shen (spirit or aura, Chapter 3). For certain, copying also implies the assimilation of the spirit. But this cannot become the objective of learning before the apprentice has succeeded in reproducing the appearance of the master's characters. What is interesting about the order of acquisition here is that appearance is regarded as a prerequisite to spirit/shen. Nevertheless once spirit/shenis acquired, appearance becomes redundant and is demoted as secondary. The outward form is only a necessary means to the end. But it is important to bear in mind that, while copying the outward appearance, the apprentice also appropriates the bodily techniques of the past master. Besides, the fact that similarity in appearance makes similarity in spirit possible, though not inevitable, means that moulding the body of the apprentice is a prerequisite to the assimilation of the spirit, at least in the case of calligraphy. In this regard, the appropriation of form is ultimately the appropriation of the spirit, even though the former does not guarantee the latter. Ideally, three categories are copied while copying the master's work: calligraphic form, body techniques and shen/spirit. Copying as a learning method is indeed a process of somatic and spiritual or moral assimilation. In other words, to learn Chinese calligraphy satisfactorily is to undergo a somatic and spiritual or moral transformation that brings one closer to past masters, who are often paragons of moral virtue.
It is also worth mentioning that the training of the body as an essential means for the training of the spirit and mind, well exemplified in both folk understanding and orthodox ideology of calligraphy, is indicative of the Chinese conception of the relationship between body and mind (xin). Without an upright spirit, the hand cannot possibly produce upright characters. Body and mind are not conceived to be alien to each other; they are channels that lead to each other. The intangible spirit or mind can be reached only through the tangible body. Therefore, a physical technology of transformation is simultaneously and ultimately a spiritual one."
One of the most enduring and enjoyable experiences I have had with the energy of the Dragon Gate has been in a decades long study of the art of Shodo, or brush calligraphy. Here is an excellent description of the way that this energy is expressed through how the brush is held, from a book I highly recommend to anyone seriously interested in Calligraphy.
Quoted from Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society, by Yuehping Yen
"Force is important to Chinese calligraphy, but one should not begin to associate calligraphic skill with the size of a writer's arm muscles! Perhaps picking up an egg with chopsticks provides a useful analogy. What matters is not how much strength you impose on the egg, but at what angles the chopsticks touch the eggshell and how much force you apply to the chopsticks with each finger at those angles. In other words, it is the 'orchestration of forces', rather than the force as such, that occupies the central stage of the 'ballet of the brush' 6 (Mindich 1990). Enthusiasts of Chinese calligraphy are very likely to be familiar with an anecdote about a pair of father-and-son calligraphy gurus. When Wang Xianzhi (the son) was a small boy, Wang Xizhi (the father) once sneaked up to the son while he was practising calligraphy and tried to pull out the brush from his hand. But he failed. From this the father predicted that his son would be a distinguished calligrapher one day. Unfortunately, a false belief centering on this anecdote has been widely circulated since. The wrong message, deriving from reading the text too literally, is to equate the strength used to hold the brush with artistic excellence. If we look at the path which 'strength' must follow from its source, the calligrapher's body, to the surface of paper, we realize that it is not a straightforward path at all. On the way through the body to its final realization on paper, the force travels through many 'checkpoints' 7 - shoulder, elbow, wrist and knuckles. Through the fingers it finally meets the brush, and then the force passes through hundreds of hairs to meet the paper. At every checkpoint, the force can be passed on in one of many metamorphosed forms, depending on such factors as angle and time. Clearly, the intensity of force is far from the only determining factor. What really matters is the mastery of the co-ordination of all these factors that lie behind the simple-looking brush."
Don't force. Don't twist. Don't disconnect. These are the three fundamental characteristics of Nanba movement. They are thought to have come from or evolved with traditional Japanese clothing.
One of them is to learn and enjoy Nanba in daily life by wearing Japanese style clothing. There are many options that are not as formal as wearing a kimono.
Jikatabi are split-toed shoes that give you greater awareness and articulation and your feet.
Setta (zouri) are Japanese sandles often coming with a tatami surface and straps with traditional designs.
Geta are wooden raised clogs which make a pleasing sound that grounds you to earth energy by keeping your awareness at your feet.
Samue is the clothing worn by traditional craftsmen, which is comfotable and has the characteristic sleeves that go to the forearm.
Obi is the belt on a martial arts uniform, or sash on a kimono, which settles your mind in the lower abdomen.
Haori is the overcoat or vest coat worn on top of a Kimono, Samurai Armor (Jinbaori), or martial arts uniform. It gives a sense of Samurai presence.
Hakama is the split skirt pants which gives a stable wide base silhouette, and also settles the mind in the lower abdomen.
Hachimaki is the towel tied around the forehead which girds the joints and strengthens the entire body.
Fundoshi is a traditional Japanese loin cloth which you tie and wrap in place.
Yukata is a simple Kimono like clothing worn with a sash, often in summer.
These and other traditional Japanese clothing are readily available in Japan, and quite affordable compared to a full kimono. They come in a wide variety of traditional colors and designs. Moreover, they enhance and encourage Nanba movement.
If you wear them without Nanba posture and movement, it will be quite obvious to the natively trained eye. Ironically, many young Japanese people do not look good in such clothing, because they have never learned how to wear it or move in Nanba style.
If you wear traditional Japanese clothing and move with Nanba movement, you will look good and move well. This is an excellent way to develop physical finesse, while enjoying cool Japan culture.
There is a carved wooden sculpture at Nikko which is world famous, both as a national treasure, and for the story it represents.
"Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil."
It is a reminder to our minds free of harmful and evil thoughts. This is not easy, when the media has a feeding frenzy on evil in nearly any form it can find it. While we cannot ignore what is going on in the world, it is very important that we spend some time free of such influences, so that we can maintain perspective on what is important in life.
Overlooking Mount Fuji, we celebrate auspicious new beginnings in the Year of the Monkey 2016, by also opening the website and blog for the Dragon Gate Nanba Arts Association （龍門ナンバ術協会 ）
Thank you for visiting, and come back soon!