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"On the Appeal of 'Calligraphy' and Hanging Scrolls in Europe" Nohoh Interview

The second author interview is with Nohoh, who has been living in Europe for a long time and has a lot to say about her As a calligrapher, she even tailors her own hanging scrolls, and teaches calligraphy to people around the world on Udemy. It's a different kind of existence, and that's what makes the work so original.

“ヨーロッパにおける『書』 と  掛軸の魅力について”  乃鳳インタビュー

by 菱田篤司

August 06, 2019

-Hello. First of all, please introduce yourself and give us a brief profile.

Hello My name is Nohoh. Japanese Calligraphy has been a favorite since I was a child, I always want to write calligraphy that I want to own and decorate. In other words, my goal is not to end the creation of the work, but to make the work I create decorated and loved by someone. The characteristic thing that is different from other artists is that I also make the hanging scrolls that direct my calligraphy work. Generally, only the area of paper on which characters are written is considered a “work”, but the world view of my work is expressed including the hanging scroll.

My parents ran a "tableware shop", a shop that tailored hanging axes and scrolls, so I grew up surrounded by a variety of hanging-axis works such as calligraphy and ink paintings. I have never learned calligraphy about a master, but I feel that I was able to learn a lot through the works of various artists. It's a privileged environment to think about the wonderful works of many artists since I was a child.

I left the hanging scrolls and majored in Western art such as oil paintings and prints at Aichi Prefectural University of Arts, and after graduating, I worked as a graphic designer in Italy and Germany. It was around that time that I started my activities as a calligrapher in earnest. I wonder if my life away from Japan gave me a chance to return to calligraphy.

In fact, I am focusing not only on calligrapher, but also on activities to encourage foreigners to enjoy calligraphy. In 2018, I opened calligraphy classes at Udemy, one of the world's largest online learning sites. I think this is also because I met people who love Japanese culture abroad. The concept is that even people who don't understand Japanese can enjoy calligraphy. I would be happy if I could contribute to the spread of calligraphy culture beyond language.

Nohoh Kakejiku

- I think there are people who don't know or have never seen the hanging scroll. Can you explain about the hanging scroll?

The hanging scroll is the one that the calligraphy is made to be decorated by putting the axis such as bamboo wood by displaying it with cloth and paper. Many people think of sumi-e paintings and Zen books that are displayed between the floors, but in fact, the place to decorate the hanging scroll need not be a "TOKONOMA".

In addition, the hanging scroll can be rolled up when not decorated, so it is also a big feature that it is easy to carry and store.

Nohoh KakejikuNohoh Kakejiku

-Could you tell us about the attractiveness of the hanging scroll?

Unlike paintings decorated with picture frames, the hanging scrolls seem more "organic". Unlike a panel or picture frame that integrates with the wall, the hanging scroll swings loosely when the wind blows, and it looks soft and moist when the humidity is high.There is such an organic presence that is soft and breathes. And I think it's one of the attractions of the hanging scroll.

It is difficult to own a number of panels and picture frames in the japanese housing situation. However, if the hanging shaft is rolled and made smaller, it does not take up a lot of storage space, so you can own several different works.

The hanging scroll is very easy to use and easy to handle, allowing you to change according to the season and the event, and to select the work according to the mood of the day.

-Could you tell us about the characteristics of your hanging scrolls?

The feature of my work is that "calligraphy work" and "hanging scroll" are combined into one work.

I am proud that there is a "spread" where the expression of the calligraphy does not end only on paper.

When it is a hanging scroll tailored by requesting a general display shop, the mounting part often functions as a role like "edge decoration" to bring out the calligraphy work. The world of artists is limited to paper only. The rest of the world of others, who are not artists, intervenes.

On the other hand, my work is completed, including the entire hanging scroll, and my view of the world extends to cloth and shafts.

I'm very particular about the materials and techniques because I make my own calligraphy works on the hanging scrolls.

Sometimes I use a cloth I drew by myself, or I use a rare material that is not normally used for hanging. It may be original in terms of expression and materials.

I create my hanging scroll works so that they look beautiful even if they are displayed in Western-style spaces as well as Japanese-style rooms. I think that having grown up in a traditional Japanese wooden house and living in Europe for 15 years has given me a sense of Japanese-Western style.

Nohoh Kakejiku

Nohoh Kakejiku 

Nohoh Kakejiku

-Certainly, the feature and charm of your work is that the world view of "calligraphy work" and "hanger" is unified. You mentioned that you lived in Europe for a long time. Can you tell us about the recognition, interest and evaluation of “calligraphy” in Europe, which is of great interest to Japanese people, especially calligraphers?

The number of people who know the word Shodo is not as good as "sushi" or "samurai", but "Japanese Calligraphy" If you ask them, they can imagine a calligraphy work with chinese characters written on it. And, I think that the level of interest in the japanese calligraphy increases every year.

Minimalism and wabisabi culture are a kind of trend these days, and the simplicity of calligraphy, which uses only brush, ink, and paper, seems to attract Europeans. In today's more complex society, people are looking for the simplicity of traditional Japanese art and the atmosphere of harmony as a kind of "healing". In fact, I have seen more and more projects that deal with "Japanese calligraphy and Japanese painting" in museums in the city.

In Europe, there is a culture that respects traditional things such as opera and classical music. Therefore, their appreciation for the Japanese calligraphy is surprisingly high, and the "Japanese calligraphy" is treated as very noble. It seems to be recognized as a sublime art that mature cultural people like.

However, in addition to the recognition of high-class art, I have come to see products and interiors that incorporate "Japanese calligraphy" designs in my daily life. It can be said that the perception of “calligraphy” is shifting as “high sense” rather than “high class”. I think it will become more popular in Western life.


-I see. I would be happy if Japanese calligraphy were taken for granted in Western life. Could you tell us what you are particularly aware of in your creations?

When I create a work, I am conscious of not being able to rest my brush and not adding ink. (Of course, when I write a long sentence, I have to add a lot of ink somewhere.

I am writing from the first stroke of the first letter to the last letter so I can express it with a single fluid energy movement without stopping the movement of the brush.

I would like you to feel not only the two-dimensional trajectory that appears on the surface of the work, but also the flow of time and energy at that moment.

-You mentioned that you have a calligraphy class at Udemy. Can you tell us about the reason you started the class?

The first time I taught calligraphy to Germans. I looked for teaching materials on the Internet, libraries, bookstores, etc. to find out what calligraphy technical terms (e.g., Tome Hane Halai, etc.) and calligraphy tools (such as Suzuri and Bunchin) in German, and how to express them in German. However, I was surprised at the small number and the low quality. The result was exactly the same in Italian.

There were more teaching materials in English than in other languages, but unfortunately, the level was still low, and textbooks in which the model letters were written in computer-style fonts became the best seller. "If there is no teaching material, I have to make it myself." I think that's the starting point that I ended up teaching at Udemy later.

And when I moved to Japan, German students said, “We want to continue calligraphy with distance learning.” At that time, I came up with the idea of teaching calligraphy online.

For the past seven years, I had developed my own method of teaching calligraphy by devising teaching materials and teaching methods. I thought that people all over the world could feel free to start calligraphy if they could enjoy calligraphy even if they didn't know Japanese.

And I made the video teaching material myself for over a year. I was also working on graphic design, which was very helpful.

-Can you tell us about the degree of interest that people in the world feel about Japanese calligraphy through Udemy?

Anyway, I feel everyone's interest in Japanese culture and love for Japanese culture (laughs)

Currently, about 7,500 people are taking the course, and not to mention the large number of native English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, India, and the Philippines, it is surprising that many people outside the English-speaking world are also surprised. We have taken courses from more than 130 countries around the world, including Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East.

I can see that people in all parts of the world have an interest in Japanese culture.

There are so many people who think of calligraphy as art. There are many people who want to learn calligraphy seriously as a "noble artistic activity".

On the other hand, there are many people who are associated with meditative things such as "spiritual unity and relaxation". I wonder if this is evidence that "wabi-sabi culture" is widespread worldwide.

It seems that people all over the world feel some kind of stress in modern society. That's why they want "activities that can make their minds feel free" and try to get it with Japanese calligraphy, one of the Japanese culture.


The interview was very interesting. The story of how “Japanese calligraphy” is recognized in Europe, and the many people in the world who are interested in the Japanese calligraphy, are both proud of the Japanese and at the same time renewed our own culture. It may be a chance to review. I also hope that the charm of the hanging scroll, which has almost disappeared in Western-style architecture in modern Japan, will be recognized again and become a culture that will remain in the future. The appeal of Nohoh's work is the beautiful view of the world that the work that combines the calligraphy and the hanging scroll. On the contrary, I feel that her long life abroad gives off the scent of “Japanese beauty”. You can feel the world view on Nohoh's Instagram, so please check it out with her work.

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