Poignant Chinese character offered to world for 2019: ‘Prayer’


Shoko Kanazawa adds the finishing touches to her calligraphy for 2019, ‘Prayer.’ PHOTO/Jason Morgan/Asia Times

Defying Down syndrome, Japan’s Shoko Kanazawa has become one of the world’s most famed calligraphers

Japan had a rough 2018. In July, torrential rains caused widespread flooding and landslides throughout south-central Japan. In September, a powerful earthquake struck the northern island of Hokkaido. And virtually the entire archipelago was racked by a series of powerful, zig-zagging typhoons that continued far beyond the usual summer season.

The year was so bad that the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, which every year puts on a kanji (Chinese character) writing performance in which the monks of the temple choose one Chinese character to stand for the previous 12 months, chose the inauspicious ideograph wazawai (“disaster”).The dailyReport Must-reads from across Asia – directly to your inbox

And the disasters of 2018 were not limited to the natural variety. Japan continues to face a threat to its west as China seeks to eliminate the Japan-US alliance, a South Korean court ruled in October that Japanese companies are liable for the use of wartime laborers from the Korean Peninsula, Nissan chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn was arrested by Japanese authorities for tax evasion, and in December the Nikkei stock index took a beating after the Federal Reserve in the United States announced an increase in interest rates.

A kanji for 2019

But not everyone is so downbeat. One of the most famous calligraphers in the world chose to write her own Chinese character to mark the close of 2018 and the opening of 2019.

As she did last year, Shoko Kanazawa, 33, created the New Year’s kanji in her family studio-home in Kugahara, a Tokyo suburb outside the Yamanote subway line. Most days, Shoko is busy at the studio giving calligraphy lessons and perfecting her art. But on the day Asia Times and a group of Japanese reporters met her, she was ready to do something special.

She was dressed in a formal kimono and attended by a small team of assistants – including her mother – who help her blot the paper and move accoutrements and giant brushes around the workspace.

Calligrapher 6 preparation

A prayer before starting. PHOTO/Jason Morgan/Asia Times

After our arrival, Shoko plunged into a deep concentration with an intensity of purpose that contrasts with the broad smiles that normally light up her face. Then she soaked her brush into a bucket of thick black ink and applied it to the paper.

Eight strokes – punctuated by sharp breathing, pregnant pauses, and nimble stances astride the enormous piece of paper – and she is done.

On the paper before her, in bold, austere calligraphy, is Shoko Kanazawa’s kanji for 2019: inori – “prayer.”

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