Dressed in a reddish-brown hakama over a kimono patterned with flowers the color of spring cherry blossoms, master calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa smiles for the camera in front of her latest creation. Her New Year’s Kanji, or Japanese character, for 2022 is “tobu,” which means “to jump” or “to fly.”
The kanji represents a wish for the world. Kanazawa and her mother, Yasuko, sadly watched a variant of the coronavirus spread in 2021, disrupting our lives and wearing us out with endless bad news.
Deciding to bring news of hope to humanity, âtobuâ is their way of saying: âLet’s fly together! “Let’s get out of the sadness brought by the virus!” “
Before jumping forward, however, Shoko looks back. She takes a formal sitting position in front of the blank sheet, folds her hands, and offers a silent prayer to her late father.
Yasuko watches Shoko take a giant paintbrush, dip it in a pan lacquered red in midnight black ink, and bow back and forth across the white background, stabbing and tweaking the brushstrokes in turn.
After a short, intense burst of activity, the job is done. “Tobu” was born, filled with the new life Shoko gave him.
Much like Shoko’s kimono, with its array of flowers and stems in vivid yellows, purples and light greens, reminds us that spring is not far away, Shoko’s tall and daring kanji – which seems ready to go. jumping off paper, true to its meaning – excites in us the strength to fight the pandemic.
Art imitates life
Yasuko invites and coaches Shoko while she works. At seventy-eight, Yasuko has spent much of his life this way, teaching his only child an art that few living people master today like Shoko.
Art imitates life. Outside the workshop, too, Yasuko guided his daughter, now thirty-six years old. Shoko was born with Down syndrome. At fourteen, she lost her father to a sudden illness. Yasuko was left alone to raise Shoko. The two didn’t have much to rely on other than prayer. They helped each other in their grief and sorrow.
Together, through prayer and hard work, Yasuko and Shoko overcame their long season of hardship. Today, Shoko is by far the most famous calligrapher in Japan and is recognized worldwide for her art.
âThe world is in pain now,â Yasuko says.
âI think what we need now is to work together to overcome the current events. I want as many people as possible to have hope, âYasuko continues, explaining why she and Shoko choseâ tobu âfor the New Year’s Kanji for 2022.
From December 22, 2021 to January 8, 2022, the Kanazawas, mother and daughter, will also make a leap into new territory: a solo exhibition for Shoko at the prestigious Mori Arts Center Gallery, atop the towering Mori Building in Roppongi Hills. Some of Shoko’s calligraphic masterpieces will be on display in the show titled “Moonlight” (“Tsuki no Hikari”).
Life imitates art
The âMoonlightâ exhibition will present a work considered to be the greatest piece of calligraphy in history: a gigantic page over fifteen meters wide on which Shoko wrote: âLet light come to my heart / May the moon come in the night sky â(Kokoro ni hikari wo, yozora ni tsuki wo).
The features vibrate, the kanji are alive. The words seem ready to fly away and move away from their two-dimensional state. It’s as if Shoko is pushing calligraphy to evolve, to make the quantum leap in modern art.
Life imitates art. Shoko, too, knows what it’s like to exceed expectations. When she was thirty, she began to live on her own, which many said was impossible for a person with Down’s syndrome.
And in May 2022, Shoko will move to the heart of the Kugahara commercial district in Ota-ku, Tokyo. It will be the fulfillment of another dream, living in the middle of a trade hub. This dream come true will give way to another. Even though she will continue to live on her own, Shoko wants to be close to her neighbors in the trading community, with everyone supporting each other in the future.
Last year, Shoko achieved another goal when she made her debut as a YouTuber. She is renowned as a calligrapher, but she broadened the scope of her activity even beyond her immense artistic success. Shoko’s magic isn’t showing any signs of abating anytime soon.
A flourishing New Years tradition in JAPAN
Twenty-two marks the fifth time that Shoko and Yasuko Kanazawa have honored our request to draw a New Year’s kanji for JAPAN Forward.
In 2018, Shoko introduced us to âhikariâ, âlightâ.
In 2019, it was âinoriâ, âprayerâ.
In 2020, she offered âwaâ, âharmonyâ, in honor of the new Reiwa era in Japan.
In 2021, Shoko cheered us all on with ‘katsu’, ‘victory’, encouraging us in our fight against the coronavirus.
Now, in 2022, we are being given “tobu”, “to fly, to jump”.
Shoko’s prediction for 2021 has sort of come true. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, delayed for a year by the coronavirus, finally took place in the summer of 2021, a victory for Japan and the world.
But the fight is not over yet. At JAPAN Forward, we will work hard to follow Shoko Kanazawa’s lead as she walks towards a brighter future.
We wish everyone happiness and good health as you âjump into the New Yearâ and avoid the hardships we have faced in the past.
RELATED (photo gallery): ‘Fly!’ is New Year’s Kanji as Shoko Kanazawa’s wishes fill the world with hope
Author: JAPAN Onward