Our second-last day in Kyoto was mind-bogglingly huge.
It started with a visit to Nijo-jo Castle, included a calligraphy lesson at WAK Japan, closed with dinner in the Ponto-cho (plus catching the cutest live band on the Shijo-dori) and ended with me braving nude, public bathing in an Onsen.
Yep. Definitely a massive day.
Today’s post is about the calligraphy lesson we took at WAK which, really, was event most of the day revolved around.
I’ve written about WAK before but the more I find out about the business the more impressed I become.
The owner, Michi Ogawa, is a middle-aged housewife who decided to create WAK (Women’s Association of Kyoto) to bring the ‘wealth of hidden talent’ from behind Kyoto doors to visitors – both foreign and domestic. To her, it was a way to give honour and purpose to the talents of Kyoto housewives, while also providing a cultural bridge and learning opportunity to visitors.
Looking around the website today I found some even more impressive information:
Ogawa is involved in a program that aims to preserve Machiya (traditional Kyoto houses) from destruction and actually moved her business into Machiyas in 2006.
She states that she sunk around 3,000,000 JPY ($30,000 AUD) into WAK, but due to her naivety in business nearly went broke. But, she refused to fold, as she believed that ‘my drop-out would dissuade other women from establishing their business.’
Michi Ogawa is, increasingly, becoming one of my heroes.
Our Calligraphy lesson
We arrived just in the nick of time for our calligraphy lesson and were introduced to our instructor who led us up to the second level of the Machiya. The stairs that we climbed were, honestly, almost vertical – it was quite dizzying.
On the second floor there were three seats set out with paper, charcoal, brushes, and an inkstone. Monique and I literally had our teacher to ourselves. We introduced ourselves properly, donned on our calligraphy aprons, and sat down ready to give Kanji calligraphy a hot-go.
First our instructor told us a little about the language.
Japanese uses several different alphabets and pictographic languages. One of them is Kanji: a pictographic Chinese language. There are approximately 50,000 characters used in Kanji and you need to know around 2,000 to be able to read something like the newspaper. In addition to Kanji, Japanese also employs three separate phonemic alphabets.
Phew! It’s no wonder Japanese is considered difficult to master!
Next our teacher taught us how to make ink. A special glue is poured onto the inkstone:
Then the stick of charcoal is rubbed into the glue to form ink. She made a point of mentioning that the process of rubbing the charcoal into the glue creates ‘a great focus’, referring to it’s meditative potential.
Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she said, ‘but sometimes this too slow, you want to do calligraphy now!’ and dramatically whipped out a huge one litre bottle of pre-prepared ink. The gesture was very much ‘here’s one I prepared earlier!’ delivered with the perfect salesman smile.
I thought she was a scream – you’ve got to respect someone who has a healthy sense of humour about themselves and their art.
After filling our inkstones and learning how to hold the brush, we started our calligraphy. It didn’t seem too hard but, then again, I doubt she was being especially hard on us. I think my character looks perfect but, let’s face it, there’s probably pre-schoolers who can do better!
We tried three characters starting with something fairly easy and working up from there. We practiced on thin paper and once she felt we’d mastered the character we created a final version on thicker paper that was glossy and smooth.
When we’d created all three characters to her satisfaction, we chose a single character to create our ‘masterpieces,’ and drew those on a thick piece of cardboard that she later stamped as ‘certified in Kyoto’.
Here’s ours:When we finished she wrapped up our ‘final’ pieces to take with us. While she was wrapping I asked her how long she’d been practicing calligraphy. She told me: 25 years. WOW! This woman has been practising her art for longer than Monique has been alive and almost as long as I’ve been alive.
I was truly amazed and inspired.
As we were putting our shoes back on, I noticed that the downstairs table was being set up for origami. Monique and I both wished that we’d booked more lessons.
If I ever visit Kyoto again I would be back at WAK in a flash to take one of their many courses. At the top of my WAK to-do list would be: Ikebana (flower arranging), Origami, sake tasting, cooking or Taiko (drum beating).
Final verdict? It was a truly wonderful experience and I highly recommend it.
Next post: Dinner in the Ponto-cho
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
To visit WAK you should take the train to either Marutamachi station on the Karasuma subway or Karasuma-oike station on the Karasuma subway and Tozai line.
Find the Imperial Palace (it’s hard to miss) and then find the Marutamachi-dori. If you’re walking from Marutamachi station, when you find the Imperial Palace you’ve also found Marutamachi-dori.
WAK is located on the Takakura-Dori which is the fourth street along on the right. If you’re arriving from Karasuma-oike station, it’s the fourth street on the left from the Oike-dori.
This is the map that WAK provides:
Cost varies widely at WAK depending on what you want. If you want a private tour around Gion followed by entertainment with real Geiko you’ll pay around $300 AUD upwards.
If you’d like a calligraphy lesson at WAK’s place of business you’ll only pay $35 AUD. If you’d like a calligraphy lesson at the home of your instructor, including taxi transfers, you’ll pay $115 AUD.
It’s really up to you and there’s an option for every budget. Head over to WAK’s website and check out some of the courses and pricing for yourself.
[Feature Image Credit: WAK Japan]
[Image Credit (1): Know Your Meme]
[Image Credit (2): Wikimedia Commons]
[Image Credit (3): Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (4): WAK Japan]
Have you visited WAK Japan or some other cultural education centre in Kyoto? What was your lesson in and how did you find the experience?