[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 黄密探]
In one of the many chanced encounters and interactions with the Japanese community, we came across Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, which offered subtle insights into the medieval Japanese way of life and thought that first manifests the idea of “mono no aware”. What gave this novel immortality is simply about how the author described the charms of the different seasons, but also how skillfully she harmonised this “sensitivity of things” with the feelings of the characters and explored the emotional response to the beauties of nature. Besides, her more gentle side of human relations also gave the basis for the adventures of Genji, as well as the more subtle use of nature that provides us with the backdrop of the story.
就在刚过去的三月，大人在这所位于新山 Thistle 酒店后方隐蔽巷子里的独立文创空间 11F，拜会了旅居本地的日本著名書道家 Soufu Honda 本田蒼風，藉由她一手轻淡浓枯、动静张弛的笔势与跃然纸上的形神兼备，我们开启了初次较深入的日马文化交流。
Our affinity continues in March when Johor Bahru play host to a “confluence” of culture at 11F (located behind Thistle Johor Bahru), where a Japanese calligraphy artist attempts to blend traditional writing techniques to her own vision of the letters and words she writes, resulting in unique and dynamic pieces of art that give new life into these “characters” with thousands of years of history.
「最让大人欣赏的，正是她擅于结合文字与象形的自然韵味，辨识度十足。」1981年出生于日本北海道旭川市的書道家本田蒼風，2岁起即随祖母学习书法，在大学学习了专业的书法知识和技法后，并於2003年在北海道教育大学获得书法硕士学位。或许看官们曾在国内外的居酒屋中看过大师的傲昂之作也说不定呢，更多关于本田老师为各界创作的作品可参访本田蒼風 Mojikara 研究所 www.mojikara.com
Born in Asahikawa city, Hokkaido, Soufu Honda began calligraphy at the age of two, sitting next to her grandmother, a distinguished Japanese calligrapher and teacher. Before long, Soufu-san has gone on to win a large number of domestic competitions ever since, culminating in her qualification as a calligrapher in 2003, and the subsequent founding of Mojikara to further the art and design of Japanese calligraphy.
资格证书 / Credentials：
For the uninitiated, Japanese calligraphy, called Shodo is the traditional figurative art of letters which has been considered as one way of self-improvement in Japan, and its formation and development of is closely related to the generation and evolution of kanji (Chinese characters). While learning the art from her grandmother, Soufu-san observed her gestures to sense speed and movement, to feel pressure on the paper and the lift of the brush. Over time, Soufu-san began to follow the forms with her own “tama” (or “qi”) flowing into the brush, working in new ways and exploring the energy of the gesture with brushwork that reflected the impact of her bold movements. This experimental approach subsequently led her to abstract painting that focused on the spontaneous gesture of her hand movements, laying the foundation of her own style of calligraphy that impacts her future art and design works.
On closer inspection, we notice a significantly closing relationship between the formation of the art of Chinese handwriting and the development of Chinese ideographs. We also couldn’t help but noted in Genji Monogatari that mono no aware is the underlying emotion that moves countless readers, just like traditional love of cherry blossoms, found throughout Japanese art and perpetuated by the masses of people that travel annually to view and picnic under cherry trees. It’s this very evanescence of the beauty of the blossoms that fall off the tree that evokes the weary perspective of mono no aware in us. This awareness of the transience of all things that heightens our appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. Such is the beauty of nature, isn’t it?
「十年前，日本的书法界仍旧局限于传统教学的文化范畴，鲜少能有書道家与商业结合的案例。」随后书法艺术逐渐进入了百花齐放的境界而普及化，本田老师结合象形 (文字的雏形) 与文字的高深造诣更在各界大放异彩。
It’s not too surprising to learn, then, that for the past 10 years Soufu-san has worked independently of any “shodo ryuha” (school of calligraphy), doing work on commission. Wanting to explore possibilities of ink, paper and silk, Soufu-san moved from calligraphy to couching ink-strokes between layers of silk and paper, revealing the gesture through her thoughts recalled from memory and feelings from the awareness of her surroundings.
Channelling the personalities and feelings that she thinks all kanji characters have and allowing them the freedom of expression to run about, Soufu-san begins to focus on the “character” itself, feeling its interaction with space, its flight into being, its lifespan as a gesture as limited and unique like our own. In a bid to instil more diversity and values to her design, Soufu-san began to travel extensively, meeting like-minded people and exhibit her work in numerous exhibitions, before lady luck play a part to divert her attention to a blog post about Johor Bahru, from a long-time overseas Japanese resident blogger whom we are proud to call our friend. The rest, they say, is history but to us, it’s a new chapter in the making.
Hailing from a remarkably homogenous country, “multicultural Japan” remains a pipe dream for Soufu-san where she could freely walk the line between tradition and individuality with much success. Having first set foot in JB on 14 July 2018 and experience first hand a bustling melting pot of races and religions, where she finds Malays, Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups all living together in a multicultural setting, Soufu-san is now enjoying a new lease of life from the monolithic culture that once limited her creativity and expression.
Upon her second visit to JB in October, Soufu-san began toying with the idea of relocating herself to the capital city of Johor, the fastest-growing city in Malaysia after the capital Kuala Lumpur. Fast forward five months later, an artistic interpretation of her desire and determination was born and best summarised in four Kanji characters 「立足新山」, which can be loosely translated as “finding her mark in Johor Bahru”.
「在 11F 这个共享文创空间里，每位创作者的内心皆蕴含着巨大的能量宝藏，大家各自发挥着属于自己的独特才华，却又能交互传递彼此的能量，生生不息。对我而言，这就像一个奇幻的国度，非常具有启发性。」本田老师直言，新山自由徜徉的文化风气与其长期所处的单一封闭文化有着极大的差异，让她不禁想立即将这思维模式的种子远播日本。
Like Soufu-san, we were equally thrilled to discover 11F, an inconspicuous “white house” along Jalan Mariamah, a recent addition to the creative cultural space of JB. Once touted as a cultural desert, the city’s arts and cultural scene is getting a new lease of life, with 11F set up to provide a joint space by Curly (who runs the Bon Bon Cafe) and Sam Wong (a hairdresser) for small enterprises to rent space and function as a community. After renovating the building for almost two years, 11F is now home to an Airbnb business and were soon joined by Ireen Tan of “Miss Ireen & Craft” who runs a vintage arts and craft shop, Ernest Goh with a darkroom space, and now a growing collective of graphic designers and other independent creatives. With this random collision of talents where people can work chill and share experiences together, Soufu-san has indeed found herself a new home (away from home) to grow her unique art form.
As we observed Soufu-san picks up her brush and prepares to unleash her calligraphy skills, we were impressed by her intense concentration and discipline. Every stroke is armed with powerful lightness, every movement in single-pointed intimacy and harmony. Her tools may be few, but using her entire body to express the feeling of the kanji, the writing process as a whole almost verges on the theatrical. To be honest, we have not seen anything like this in many ancient cultural capitals, let alone witnessing up close and personal in JB!
According to our Japanese counterparts, there’s also a traditional belief in the power of words known as the “kotodama” where spirits inhabit every word and could cause various invisible influences. A compound of “koto” (meaning word or speech) and “tama” (meaning soul or spirit), a growing retrospective of Soufu-san’s works over the past decade now firmly embody this ancient Japanese belief and the spiritual power that lives in language. This alignment of force and technique can also be seen in Japanese martial arts, where the belief in kotodama gave rise to the “battle cry,” in aikido to harmonise mind and body to the task at hand.
Living in a culture where Chinese is our mother tongue and Chinese calligraphy a subject we came into contact in primary education, we were nevertheless overwhelmed by the sensation of kotodama and its spiritual power. Beyond calligraphy, Soufu-san has also extended this power to her other art forms beyond her native Japanese language. For her, kotodama is the feeling that guides her brush, harmonising her body, spirit and action and we certainly look forward to the day where other cultures and races in Malaysia will also benefit from her creation.
Before we call it a day, we cheekily ask if Soufu-san could write something for us as blessings and she kindly obliged with our very own kotodama-version of our brand MAGistrate 「杂志大人」. Like Soufu-san who aspires to stand tall and find her mark in multi-cultural JB, we share her dream and hope her kind blessings can also stand us in good stead and inspire us to greater things, for many more years to come.
Ganbatte to douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!
書家／文字デザイナー 本田蒼風（Soufu Honda）