An element of Japanese culture that called me to Japan has always been calligraphy. The smooth, thick, brush strokes that make up words have always tugged at my fascination. Calligraphy is a subject my students learn in school, and for those with a strong interest in it, they can join the after-school calligraphy club.
Visiting this club has been on my Japan life list since the very beginning. Just recently, I got to have that wonderful experience.
When I entered the room the faint smell of the black ink filled it completely. A small group of about eight girls awaited my planned arrival and they ushered me to the seat they had set for me. I felt a bit like royalty as they all centered their attention completely on me and my experience. Roles were reversed as those who were my students by day, suddenly became my teachers by night. Together they collectively pooled their English ability to communicate a hard and fast calligraphy lesson to me.
We started with the basics. I practiced a few of the basic lines and was taught how to hold the brush correctly. As time went on they added more and more best practices. Lines of communication were formed through a mix of short phrases and words, drawings, and gestures. Easily enough I was able to follow all their collective knowledge.
After some practice with the basics we moved on to some words. Japanese calligraphy is written in Kanji (Chinese characters) and makes up words written in Japanese. The girls wrote the characters in front of me so I could see how it was done. They gave me several sheets of paper to practice on before I would be doing the final one of a thicker piece of patterned cardboard.
With each practice round the girls gave me more and more hints. They wrote down the stroke order and wrote me notes for what I was supposed to do with my brush. Though I could never make it look exactly like theirs, they praised me all the same each time.
Watching someone do calligraphy proved much more relaxing than actually doing it. Watching the girls make the smooth, fluid strokes had a calming effect on me. Though when it came time to do it myself, it induced a little stress. However, at one point one of my teachers took my hand in hers and guided me through the strokes in a team effort. Being enveloped in all their collective desire for my success made me feel warm and positively connected.
I was excited to for them to give me this cultural experience. Though I enjoy teaching in the classroom, I so much enjoy these extra moments outside of the classroom to interact and connect with my students. They got to use their English in a real world and practical way, talking about something they loved. They had a moment to see their teacher in a different light. I got to be humbled and learn something from girls half my age. I won't soon forget their kindness.