Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hubby practised shodo calligraphy at home

On 16th of December, hubby was back home from work at 7 pm, which was rather early as he usually returns home after 11 pm. He had bought all the implements of shodo calligraphy and wanted to practice it at home. Hubby had learnt shodo calligraphy in elementary school and it had been his hobby until his high-school days. Hubby got interested in trying out shodo again after reading the blog that I posted earlier this month. In shodo calligraphy, an ink-dipped brush is used artistically to create Chinese kanji and Japanese kana characters. The art of shodo is a part of the culture and tradition of Japan. Works of calligraphy are admired for the accurate composition of their characters, the way the brush is handled in their creation, the shading of the ink, and the balanced placement of the characters on the paper.

Hubby had his dinner in a hurry and arranged all the implements of Shodo on the table. A calligraphy set consists of the following.
Shitajiki: Black, soft mat
Bunchin: Metal stick to weight down the paper during writing
Hanshi: Special, thin calligraphy paper
Fude: Brush
Suzuri: Heavy black container for the ink
Sumi: Black ink. Hubby used instant ink (bokujuu) that is available in bottle.

Hubby wrote my first name 'Manisha' using kanji characters. While practising shodo, hubby sat in the the tradition formal seiza style and wrote with full concentration and silence. The very first trial seemed rather nice to my untrained eyes. But hubby kept trying shodo writing using new hanshi papers for more than 20 times until it was written up to his satisfaction. When I asked him the reason for repeatedly trying the same kanji characters, he explained that in shodo calligrahy, the beginning, the direction, the form and the ending of lines, and the balance between elements are important for each line and point. This is true because I noted that out of the many shodo trials that hubby performed, only for a few select trials that were up to hubby's satisfaction, the hieroglyphs were harmonious, proportional, and balanced.

Here are the sequential photos that I took while hubby wrote 'Manisha' in kanji characters during one of the trials. It was really nice to watch various strokes and moves that hubby performed while writing the characters.

During this trial, the kanji characters were proportional and very well balanced.

I compiled all the photos that I took during the above shodo writing trial into a video.

Hubby liked the proportion and balance of the kanji characters in four of the shodo writing trials of 'Manisha'.

Next, hubby wrote his name 'Nagata Kazuo' in kanji characters.

I also tried shodo calligraphy writing. I too wrote the kanji characters of 'Nagata Kazuo'. It was my very first attempt, and predictably, the result was disastrous. Hubby was really very amused after seeing my style of shodo writing.

It was the first time that I saw hubby practising shodo calligraphy and I realized that he is really very good at it. I love shodo and hope to learn from hubby and improve on my shodo writing ability.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Japanese wedding

On December 07, hubby and me attended the wedding ceremony of our friend (the groom) who was also our junior colleague about ten years back in the University in Tokyo suburbs. Professor Murata, who was our research advisor, also attended the ceremony along with his wife. The wedding ceremony was held in Tado shrine, which is a Shinto shrine located in the Tado-cho area of the city of Kuwana in Mie prefecture, Japan. Since we were visiting my father-in-law and stayed with him in Ichinomiya city of Aichi prefecture from 5th to 8th December, he gave hubby and me a ride by his car up to Nagoya railway station on the morning of 7th December. From there, it took us about one hour to reach the Shrine by bus.
Contemporary Japanese weddings are celebrated in a variety of ways. Many contain traditional Japanese and western elements side by side. A Japanese wedding ceremony can be Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, and non-religious styles. The wedding style does not necessarily match with a person's religion. Non-Christian couples often have their wedding ceremony at chapels, which seems to be the recent trend. Legal marriage in Japan is civil marriage that is established through reporting the marriage at a city hall of the Japanese government by submitting a marriage registration form (Kon-in Todoke in Japanese), and not by the blessing from the priest whether it is Christian or Shinto. This is because the State is separated from religion according to Article 20 of the 1947 Constitution of the Japanese government. Since wedding ceremonies have no legal significance in Japan, people try to make the wedding day special, enjoyable, and memorable by celebrating it in the way they wish/prefer.
Our friend's wedding ceremony was held in the Shinto style. It was the first time that I attended a Shinto-style wedding and I found it very exciting and interesting! Hubby and me dressed formally for the occassion. I wore a semiformal dress and hubby wore a black formal suit. At the entrance of the wedding hall of the shrine, we handed over an envelope containing some cash as wedding gift for our friend to the shrine staff at the reception desk and signed our name in the guestbook. The gift cash was enclosed in a special cute looking envelope called 'shugi-bukuro' with our name written in the front of the envelope. It is polite to use new bills with no creasing. Usually, giving cash as gift is the accepted norm and bringing any other form of presents is almost unheard of.

The type of shugi-bukuro we used for enclosing the wedding gift

Next, we went to the shrine. On our way to the shrine, we saw the groom, bride, and their families in beautiful traditional clothes. The bride wore a traditional wedding kimono called 'shiromuku' and the groom wore 'montsuki haori hakama'. The couple looked so beautiful. The traditional custome worn by the bride is perhaps the highlight of the ceremony! The 'shiromuku', also called 'uchikake', is a white gorgeous kimono with great details in patterns woven into the material. While the couple and their family took the blessings of the Shinto God by praying infront of the Shrine, we took several photos of them. Below are some of the photos of the bride and the groom in wedding custome.

Bride and groom in traditional Japanese wedding custome

Bride and groom

Bride and groom posing with their parents

It was the coldest day of the year and the mercury dipped to one degree centigrade. Hubby took a photo of me shivering in a dress made up of very thin material. It felt cold! But the excitement of attending the wedding made me bear the cold. It was really worth!

Me in front of the shrine

The wedding took place before a Shinto sanctuary set up for the occassion. The reception place was equipped with a special room for the wedding ceremony. Such a wedding is usually attended by members of both the families and close relatives. So we were really fortunate to have attended the actual wedding ceremony. However, taking photos and videos was not allowed. So, unfortuantely, I have no photos of the actual wedding ceremony. The wedding was presided by a Shinto priest who first held a purification service of all present. After some ritual by the priest, the bridegroom read an oath to keep faithful and obedient to each other in the married life. The 'san-san-kudo' or ceremony of the three-times-three exchange of nuptial cups was then performed by the bridegroom and bride. This was followed by the exchange of wedding rings. Drinks of 'sake' was then exchanged between members and close relatives of both the families (we also performed this ceremony) to signify their union through the wedding. The wedding was accompanied by traditional music and attended by 'miko' maidens who served 'sake' in red and white dresses. The bridegroom and bride proceed to the sanctuary to offer twigs of 'sakaki' sacred tree in worship to Gods to end the main part of the wedding ceremony. It was a short and simple service with a solemn atmosphere.
After the ceremony, a reception party called 'kekkon hiroen' was held in an adjacent hall. There were about 50 guests who were relatives, friends, and present/past coworkers. The seating arrangement at the reception party is extremely important. Prof. Murata and his wife, my hubby and me were seated at the first table closest to the bride and groom, who were seated in the center front of the room. This meant that we were very important guests for the occasion! I noticed that the families and relatives were seated way back in the room. It was easy to find our seats as our names were printed on the tables. After taking our seats, I saw that my name was written by including my hubby's family name too. It read 'Nagata (in Kanji characters) Kundu Manisha (in Katakana)'. I was really happy to see my name written in this particular manner!
My name printed as 'Nagata Kundu Manisha'

After all the guests were seated in their respective seats, the bride and groom entered the reception hall in the fabulous wedding dress they wore for the ceremony. The couple then proceeded to the center stage, bowed to all the guests, and then sat enjoying the speeches made by various guests. Prof. Murata made a nice speech about the professional career of the groom.

Bride and groom during the wedding reception

Bride and groom enjoying the speeches made by the guests

Prof. Murata giving a speech about the professional career of the groom

This was followed by the ritual called 'kagami biraki'. From ancient times, 'kagami biraki' has been one of the essential practices at wedding ceremonies to share felicitations and to celebrate the threshold of the couple's new life. During this ceremony, the bride and groom opened the top of the 'sake' barrel with a small mallet amidst yells of congratulations. Then, the 'sake' was served to all the attendants to share the happy moment. We all did 'kanpai' (cheers) using 'sake' with the newly wedded couple to wish them a happy married life.

Bride and groom opening the top of a sake barrel

Kanpai with sake

A full course Japanese meal was served to each guest. After the 'kanpai' with the 'sake', all the guests started eating the eleven course meal. It was really superb. There was a generous flow of alcohol (beer and sake) during the meal.
The bride and broom changed costumes a couple of times during the wedding reception, which is the usual practice nowadays. So, during the course of the reception the bride and groom were led out to change the dress. Although the groom did not change the cloth for the second appearance into the reception room, the bride changed to a second wedding kimono dress, which was different in design and color but was just as beautiful and elaborate as the first one. The couple walked around the room, greeted the guests, and lit the candles at each table. Finally, the couple lit a large candle at the center stage of the room.

Bride and groom lighting a candle at the center stage

This was followed by more speeches and performances by the guests, which the couple enjoyed sitting at the center stage. My hubby also made a small speech about the groom as well as the bride. This is because my hubby was not only the colleague of the groom but is a good friend of both the groom as well as the bride. I remember that all four of us have gone out for dinner on several occasions over the past couple of years.

My hubby giving a speech during the reception

Bride and groom enjoying the speeches made by various guests

Next, the bride and groom cut a large wedding cake amongst cheers and clapping from all the guests. The atmosphere in the reception room was getting more and more festive as the consumption of alcohol continued along with the meal.

Bride and groom cutting the wedding cake

For the entertainment of the guests as well as the newly wedded couple, two 'samisen' performers played the 'samisen' and sang for about 20 min. It was nice to listen to the traditional Japanese instrumental music.

Two performers playing Samisen musical instrument

The bride and groom were led out of the reception room a second time to change their dress. During their next appearance into the reception room, the couple was attired in western outfit with the groom wearing a grey morning suit and the bride wearing an exquisite white wedding gown. The bride looked very beautiful in the white gown. The couple moved around the room and individually served the already cut wedding cake to each guest.

Bride and groom wearing western wedding custome and accepting flower bouquets from children

Bride and groom posing with children

Bride and groom serving cake to Prof. Murata

Next, the couple made speeches to thank their parents for everything they had done for the couple. Most of the guests got rather emotional listening to the speeches and there were tears in the eyes of almost every guest. Although it was really sad for the bride to leave her parents' home but it was also a happy moment as she entered a new phase of her life with husband and his family. The couple thanked all the guests once again and were led out of the reception room. Finally, the reception was declared over by one of the couple's relative.

Groom giving a speech thanking his parents and relatives

Prof. Murata, his wife, my hubby, and me took a photo together for the sake of remembrance. In addition, hubby and me posed in front of the center stage where the bride and groom sat during the reception.

Me, hubby, Prof. Murata, and his wife during the reception

Me and hubby in the reception room

We are not supposed to wear shoes in the Japanese tatami style reception room

The newly wedded couple and their parents stood at the exit of the wedding reception hall, and thanked the leaving guests by giving a bag containing souvenirs called 'hikidemono' to take home.
It was almost 4.4o pm by the time the reception got over. There was a bus waiting for us at the entrance of the shrine to return back to Nagoya railway station. We were back to my father-in-law's home by 6.15 pm. It was a long day for hubby and me. But we were really happy to have attended our friend's wedding. It was a nice and enjoyable day!

Note: I would like to thank the newly wedded couple for their kind permission to upload their wedding photos in this blog.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Visit to Tatsu-chan's home

Last weekend, hubby and me had been to my father-in-law's home in Ichinomiya, Aichi prefecture for a visit and also to attend the wedding ceremony of a friend. The friend's wedding was on Sunday, the 7th of December and we had nothing much to do on Saturday. So on Saturday, my sister-in-law (hubby's sister) and her kids, my hubby and me visited Tatsu-chan, hubby's aunt (my late mother-in-law's younger sister) in Okazaki, Aichi prefecture.


Tatsu-chan (formally Tatsuko-san) has been a source of great influence and important fixture in my hubby's life. When hubby was a little child of about two, Tatsu-chan was a university student and lived with hubby's family for a few years. During those days, my in-laws were very busy in their respective jobs and it was Tatsu-chan who literally took care of my hubby. As a child, hubby thought that Tatsu-chan was the smartest person in the world. I have been to her place a few times in the past three years, and I know that not only is she the smartest person but is one of the kindest person I have ever met in Japan. The first time I met Tatsu-chan in 2005, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to notice the striking resemblance between her and the few photos of my mother-in-law that I have seen. I guess she was strict with my hubby during his upbringing as he is still a bit scared of her, which is probably out of respect for her.
Nowadays my sister-in-law is very busy taking care of two very small kids. Although it is very satisfying to see the kids growing up, but presently sister-in-law gets absolutely no time for herself. So once in a while she goes to Tatsu-chan's home, where she does not have to care about anything under the sun! Everything is taken care of by Tatsu-chan! For that matter, whenever my hubby feels low, he wishes to see Tatsu-chan. I guess Tatsu-chan fills the lacuna created by the untimely passing away of my mother-in-law fourteen years back. Tatsu-chan is like a mother to my hubby and his sister and provides all the moral support they need. In fact, last year I had been to the Institute for Molecular Science in Okazaki for some official work and stayed at the guest house of the institute. Since Tatsu-chan's home is only stone's throw away from the institute, I had a great temptation to go and visit her. Tatsu-chan and her family were probably shocked to get a foreigner visitor at 8 in the night!

On 6th December, we went to Tatsu-chan's home by my sister-in-law's car as it is very spacious and all five of us (hubby, me, sister-in-law and her two kids) could ride very convenienty. We were supposed to start the road trip at 10.30 in the morning. But we had to wait for about 20 more minutes for my sister-in-law (who lives nearby) to arrive in my father-in-law's home as she had to get two little kids ready for the trip, which is not an easy task. During this time, for no rhyme or reason, my hubby started looking up the world atlas. This was probably to hide his excitement of meeting Tatsu-chan though I am not sure about it!

Hubby reading the world atlas while waiting for his sister to arrive home

It took us about one hour and 20 minutes to reach Okazaki from my father-in-law's home. Tatsu-chan's daughter was also at home as it was a holiday. She is a university student of Arts faculty and is very busy with her studies. I like Tatsu-chan's daughter a lot. It is really wonderful to see a young lady with so much hopes and dreams in life! We all took a few photos together for keepsake. Notice that my hubby is not seen in any of these photos as he was the photographer!

Me and hubby's cousin

Tatsu-chan, hubby's sister and her kids, me, and hubby's cousin

It was almost lunch time when we reached Tatsu-chan's home. We had a delicious lunch of rice and oden, a winter specialty. She cooked such mouthwatering food that our full concentration was on eating and we completely forgot to take a photo of the various dishes she cooked! But we did thorough justice to her cooking! By the time we finished our lunch, almost everything was over. After lunch we all chatted about many things. Sister-in-law's older kid had a nice time watching cartoon movies. We got many presents (omiyage in Japanese) from Tatsu-chan.

Presents from Tatsu-chan

Soon it was time to return back to my father-in-law's home. That day time passed very fast indeed. By the end of the day we all were very happy to have visited Tatsu-chan, especially hubby and my sister-in-law had broad smile on their faces! Thanks Tatsu-chan for everything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shodo - Art of Japanese Calligraphy

On November 22 hubby and me went to see the Mainichi newspaper sponsored modern Japanese calligraphy art exhibition in Akita city (Mainichi Gendaisho Junkai-ten, Akita-ten). It was the 60th anniversary of the Mainichi calligraphy exhibition (Mainichi Shodoten dai 60 kai kinen). The exhibition was held in the ATORION building of Akita city from November 21-26.
Japanese calligraphy (shodo) is a form of calligraphy, or artistic writing, where an ink-dipped brush is used artistically to create Chinese kanji and Japanese kana characters. The art of shodo originated in China and came to Japan in the sixth or seventh century, and thus has been heavily influenced by Chinese calligraphy. The art of shodo is a part of the culture and tradition of Japan. Most children learn calligraphy in elementary school and it is a popular hobby among adults too. Works of calligraphy are admired for the accurate composition of their characters, the way the brush is handled in their creation, the shading of the ink, and the balanced placement of the characters on the paper. There are different types of calligraphy. In Kaisho (square style), the strokes in the characters are precisely drawn in a printed manner. Gyosho (semicursive) is written faster and more loosely. Sosho (cursive) is a much freer and more fluid method where the strokes of the characters can bend and curve.

First, we went to the exhibition hall where many beautiful pieces of calligraphy art-works were on display. In Japanese calligraphy, the beginning, the direction, the form and the ending of lines, the balance between elements are important for each line and point, and even the empty space signifies many things. We noted that the hieroglyphs were harmonious, proportional, and balanced, which created an aesthetic pleasure.

Next, we went to see the calligraphy training session event where about 35 Japanese children actively participated.

I noticed that in front of every participant many implements of calligraphy were kept. Hubby explained to me that a calligraphy set consists of:
Shitajiki: Black, soft mat or writing pad.
Bunchin: Metal stick to weight down the paper during writing.
Hanshi: Special, thin calligraphy paper.
Fude: Brush.
Suzuri: Heavy black container for the ink.
Sumi: Black ink. Instant ink (bokujuu) in bottles is also available.

Initially, there was a practise session (warming up exercise) for the participants, where they wrote the character of 'Ai' (love). It was amazing to see all the children busily writing 'Ai' on Hanshi with full concentration, patience, and pin-drop silence!

Since the participants were young children, the organizers of the event thought that some of the young participants might have difficulty in remembering the Kanji character of 'Ai'. Therefore to guide the children, a lady held two pieces of calligraphy art-works depicting the Kanji character and Hiragana of 'Ai'. The very young ones were allowed to write 'Ai' in Hiragana.

After finishing writing the character 'Ai', the children waited patiently for the practice session to be over. I was really impressed to see all the children sitting in the tradition formal Seiza style thoughout the session.

Three university students from Mongolia and one university student from America also participated in the event.

Next, when the actual calligraphy training session began, each person had to write Kanji or Kana characters of their choice on special lantern-shaped thick paper-sheets. Also, each person was required to write different characters on four such special paper-sheets. It was really worthwhile to watch various strokes and moves the children performed while writing the characters.

After the calligraphy session was over, these special lantern-shaped paper-sheets were tied to bamboos frames that were shaped in the form of a Kanto (a Kanto is an array of many candle-lit lanterns hung on a bamboo frame and the Kanto Matsuri held in Akita city is one of the top three festivals of Tohoku region of Japan). Two such fabulous and amazing Kantos were made. It was a great enjoyable experience to see the two Kantos containing many lantern-shaped paper-sheets on each of which was written a unique Kanji or Kana character of the childrens' choice.

Shodo - the art of Japanese calligraphy is really wonderful! I hope to learn it some day.