“I like that one symbol holds so much meaning.”
“Everything about this is hard! Give me a hammer or a saw, not a brush and paper!”
“The focus that this takes is relaxing and comfortable.”
“Not being able to use my left hand is a challenge, but succeeding with my right hand is satisfying.” People from Australia and France were left with these thoughts and impressions after trying their hand at shodo, Japanese calligraphy for the first time.
The NARA Visitor Center & Inn
Since the 23rd of July the NARA Visitor Center & Inn, the Nara Prefecture backed visitor information center near the Sarusawa Pond, has been the traveler’s one stop shop for travel information and services in Nara City. The Visitor Center features two walls worth of travel literature (one for Nara the other for elsewhere in Japan), friendly and knowledgeable multi-lingual staff on hand every day, and the Travelers’ Lounge to help visitors rest and plan their next move. The lounge has three Internet connected laptops, several tablets and free WiFi to further help with one’s travel research. The Visitor Center also offers free luggage storage and currency exchange services, and it’s equipped with an ATM that accepts overseas cards, and a convenience store to help travelers refuel. The NARA Visitor Center & Inn’s crown jewel has to be its cultural experiences. A different one is offered every day free of charge and new seasonal experiences are rotated into the schedule every month. Some activities are so good that they’ve become a permanent part of the schedule. One such activity is shodo, or Japanese calligraphy.
“The practice of shodo was invented in China 5,000 years ago,” one of the shodo instructors informed me. “It came to Japan with the kanji alphabet in the 3rd century.”
The practice of calligraphy as art came from Zen Buddhism. The idea is to express a Zen concept or belief as briefly and gracefully as possible. The focus and calmness of one’s heart and mind while partaking in shodo was and still is meant to be a meditative process. Shodo classes at the NARA Visitor Center & Inn do a good job of keeping that meditative process alive. The instructors teach participants the various types of brush strokes in an informal environment, and allow them to practice until they feel confident. The various kanji patterns are then brought out, the meanings are explained and participants try their newly gained skills on their chosen kanji.
This lefty’s right handed efforts were not satisfactory (not to me) and I switched to my left hand and produced something better. The instructors advised me to go more slowly (and use my right hand) in the future but were pleased with my results. I would be happy to my hand at calligraphy again and write a different kanji and produce something more satisfying to me. The shodo classes at the NARA Visitor Center & Inn are offered every Monday from 2pm-4pm.
The NARA Visitor Center & Inn is a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Walk through the covered Higashi-muki shopping street to the Sanjo-dori shopping street, turn left and walk straight until you come to the Sarusawa Pond. The Visitor Center is on the far bank.
It’s a longer 20-minute walk to the Visitor Center from JR Nara Station, but it’s also more direct. Go out the east exit of the station, pass the bus platforms and go to the stoplight on the corner. Cross the main street and then follow the brick paved Sanjo-dori shopping street to the Sarusawa Pond and the Visitor Center.