|Kana-Artist and a Master of Kana Shodo, Kaoru Akagawa|
Sunset on Seine
Time and Space
Kanji and Kana ------ men and women's writings
Kanji Shodo, which was most often practiced by men, was imported from China. The term Kanji literally means “Han Dynasty Characters”. Almost all official documents or sutras were written in Kanji Shodo. It had a similar function to Latin for the Catholics, and foreign policy for the French. Therefore, it was necessary for the upper class men, like samurai, monks and nobles to master Kanji Shodo. Because Japanese thought that writing reflects a person's personality, men have trained intensively in order to write kanji with dignity. This is how Kanji Shodo evolved in Japan.
On the other hand, Kana Shodo is mainly written with Kana characters, the characters that were developed from Chinese Kanji characters, with some Japanicised Kanji characters being mixed in to support the sentences. Kana Shodo was disseminated in the 10th Century among aristocratic women. Kana Shodo was important for women because at that time they were restricted from learning Kanji Shodo. At the end of the 10th Century, women's literature, such as love stories or Tanka, flourished in the former Imperial City of Kyoto. In particular, the women who belonged to the Imperial Family and nobles showed their ability as writers. For example, Murasaki Shikibu, a woman from a noble family wrote the very famous romantic novel "Genji Monogatari" using Kana Shodo. This was the first significant literature masterpiece in Japanese history.
The women of the upper classes of society wrote their love letters in Kana Shodo, too. In the Middle Ages, love letters written by noble women was the first step to show men their personalities because it was embarrassing for them to talk to men or to show their face to men. If her writing was beautiful, the woman had a better chance to win the man's heart, since the men felt that not only her writing, but also the woman herself must be beautiful. So the women tried to write in a rather soft and sexy form, compared to the dignified manner of the men. By writing a love letter the selection of the paper was also important. Because women rarely appeared before the men, they could not use their appearance. So the women chose colored paper with gold leaves or silver leaves to express their taste. Thus, Kana Shodo developed in Japan. Of course, men also had to learn Kana Shodo in order to impress women, to read novels, and to exchange letters with women.
Unfortunately, the Kana characters in which the women used, are rarely seen in Japan, today. Not so many Japanese can read and write these Kana characters anymore, because today only 46 of Kana characters are used in the Japanese Education System. In the past, there were at least 300 characters and thousands of variations(Itaiji).The reason for this decrease is because Japan had reduced the number of characters due to modernization. The Japanese government has selected only the most frequently used Kana characters. The rest, more than thousands of variations which were not selected, are called "Hentaigana" today. Unfortunately, we can rarely see this Hentaigana in everyday life in Japan. (Ex. Only in signboards in front of soba restaurants). But one can say that the incomparable unique beauty of Japan exists in the thousands of Hentaigana.
The export of Japanese culture has risen nowadays to a considerable extent. In bookstores in Berlin, one find a lot of Japanese manga, while many Japanese restaurants line the streets in Paris.The interest in Japanese characters is also very high. Kanji tattoo is already a long time fashion, and many foreigners pay to have their names written in Kanji. But unfortunately it is only Kanji that catches my eye. Kana, the origin of Japanese culture is incredibly unknown. Kana is an art that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. There are also many similarities between the Kana writings and Ukiyo-e paintings, the ancient Japanese paintings that even Vincent van Gogh or Edgar Degas were influenced by. I find it very disappointing that only Kanji is seen as the representative of the Japanese characters, although they do not depict true Japanese culture.
The core spirit of Kana can be first grasped through the deep understanding of the atmosphere or feeling created by old love letters or Tanka, and when you sense the emotion of the writer. From 2001 I have followed the old trade route, Nakasendo, 700 km between Tokyo and Kyoto on foot. It was a good opportunity for me as a Japanese to walk Nakasendo with an old map in my hand, and imagine the sentiments of the aristocracy, samurai, and merchants who traveled the Nakasendo in the Edo period, and discovered the world of Kana. The encounter with old letters or diaries in history museums or castles on the road, or with characters on the memorial stones in the street had made my enchantment with Kana even stronger.
After my university days I used to work in the Television Advertising sector. With the magic of digital technology everything was editable and possible. In contrast, to the stoic analog world of writing Kana, nothing can be hidden because one's soul appears always through the tip of the brush on paper. My goal is to introduce foreigners and Japanese young people, who had no contact with Kana, to the beauty and charm of Kana, and to show them what is concealed behind the simple behavior of "writing".