12 Jan 2020
23rd August 2018
JETAA North West: Free as a Bird by the Keiboku Calligraphy School
On August 18, JETAA North West was invited to join Free as a Bird, the Keiboku Calligraphy School’s second exhibition and performance at the Jacaranda Club in Liverpool. The Keiboku School is a large private calligraphy school in Tokyo run by Keiko Hiraga. Keiko was warm and welcoming and she gave me a fascinating tour of some of the pieces on show. There was a wide variety of styles and texts exhibited, including Japanese poems, Chinese-style poems, sutra copies and creative pieces featuring just a few kanji (Chinese characters.) A feature piece was a stunning, simple suiboku-ga (ink and wash painting) of a hagi tree (bush clover) and the moon.
JETAA ran a table exhibiting memorabilia from our time on the JET Programme, books about Japan and origami. I even brought my Shodo file from when I was a JET and shared some of my teacher’s examples with the calligraphers and the guests. I chatted with people from a variety of backgrounds and ages, who all had a deep interest in Japan, the Japanese language and culture, including those who were interested in applying for the JET programme. The calligraphers ran a stall that allowed our vistors to try their hand at calligraphy. I also had a go
The main event of this exhibition was a live calligraphy performance. This was very exciting, and a reminder that Japanese calligraphy operates at the intersection between visual and performing arts. The first performer was 10-year old Natsuki Ide, a calligraphy protégé who learns with her mother. Remarkably, she has only been learning for a few years. She wrote utsukushii sora which means ‘beautiful sky.’ Next up was the dynamic and forceful performance by Haruka Yamazaki. She used a large brush and wrote in a loose and creative style ‘ichi go ichi e’ which means ‘once in a lifetime.’ The last performer was Keiko herself who wrote an extremely complex Chinese—style poem in a beautiful cursive script. Finally, all three Keiboku girls wrote Thank you in Japanese – (arigatou and kansha), and in English.
Japanese calligraphy has been undergoing a revival as contemporary art in recent years and there have been exhibitions at the Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Art and this year in France.
The staff of the Jacaranda club told me about the fascinating history of the venue and its role in Liverpool history. The Jacaranda was the first rehearsal space of the Beatles, and John Lennon and Start Sutcliffe (an original Beatles member) painted the walls of the underground venue in exchange for a free practice space. The paintings are still there today, but have been painted over numerous times. However, the club have protected one small square of the faded and peeling original painted wall.
In conclusion, this was a highly informative and enjoyable day and I learnt so much about both UK and Japanese culture. I hope that the Keiboku school will come back again to join us again next year.