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"I want to bring the charm of calligraphy to people around the world" Interview with Fugaku Watanabe

This interview is with Mr. Fugaku Watanabe. We had the pleasure of interviewing the artist, who is also a doctor of calligraphy and a Nitten artist, about various interesting stories about calligraphy.

“書の魅力を世界中の人に届けたい” 渡邉富岳インタビュー

by 菱田篤司

December 05, 2020

ーWhen and why did you start practicing calligraphy?

On June 6, when I was six years old, on the recommendation of my mother, calligrapher Seika Watanabe, I started taking a calligraphy class with a famous local master, Gyoufu Suzuki.

ーYou have been doing calligraphy ever since, right? What is the appeal of calligraphy to you?

It is difficult to describe the appeal of calligraphy in simple terms, but I think it is the ability to condense very complex and diverse elements in a series of extremely simple lines, such as black on white paper. Because it is an instantaneous expression that can't be repainted, it clearly shows who I am at the moment. By sincerely confronting these sticky lines, new challenges are always born. And we can continue to improve them. This repetitive process itself is also the charm of calligraphy.

ーI see. You mentioned earlier about the "various elements", but for those who want to know more about calligraphy, can you tell us more about it?

Calligraphy is generally done with a brush, ink and paper. I try to express myself in various ways with the brush. For example, if you use a lot of ink, the lines will blur, or if you reduce the amount of ink, the lines will be blurred. If you add pressure, the line becomes thicker, or if you write with the tip of the brush, it becomes thinner. These are the technical aspects of expression, and by combining them in more complex ways, various expressions are possible.

They also need to be used differently depending on the situation and application. To do so, I think it is necessary to accumulate skills and experience, and to have many different ways of expression.

If we expand the scale a bit further, humanity, mind, or what you've written (or experienced) becomes an aggregate of what you've written (or experienced) and is reflected in your so-called calligraphy style. In addition to the technical expressions that can be created deliberately, as I mentioned earlier, there are also the kinds of things that come out naturally.

Some of this is due to the accumulation of calligraphy classics that I have learned, and others are not limited to calligraphy, but come from various experiences, habits, gimmicks, and mentalities. Calligraphy and human nature are often talked about, but it is interesting that they are inseparable. It's interesting that they are inseparable.

In that sense, I think we can say that refining our humanity and mindset is in itself a way of training our calligraphy. Then, when I'm not writing, I'm always thinking about calligraphy.

I think those technical aspects and aspects like humanity and spirituality are the diverse elements I mentioned earlier.

Interview with Tomitake Watanabe

ーThank you. By the way, you have a Ph.D. in calligraphy, what kind of research did you do?

I studied calligraphy for ten years at university and graduate school and received my PhD in 2019.

First of all, my specialty is Chinese characters, and Chinese characters are of Chinese origin.

So my studies have been in the field of Chinese calligraphy.

In the course of studying calligraphy at university and under a master, I became interested in KINBUN, which I still like to show in exhibitions. 

Ultimately, the title of my doctoral dissertation was "The Compiler of Jikkozai Tschungding Yiqi Inscriptions" and the study of its KINBUN inscriptions.

Although the Chinese characters are difficult to understand, I would like to explain the content of my dissertation by briefly interpreting the title.

First of all, my research was conducted during the Qing dynasty in China, around 1800 AD.

At that time, there was a man named Ruan Yuan (1764-1849), who is still known today as a scholar.

At that time, amidst the prosperity of hermeneutics, the study of goldsmiths and papyrology, which focused on gold (bronzes) and stones (stone carvings) as the objects of calligraphy, was receiving a great deal of attention.

In the midst of this trend, the book compiled by Ruan Yuan was the "Jikkozai Tschengding Yiqi Inscriptions" as its title suggests. Jikousai is the name of Ruan Yuan's study, and "Zhongding Yiqi" is a generic term for Kinbun, while "inscription" means an inscription.

So to speak, this book is like a catalogue of rubbings of bronzes in the collection of Ruan Yuan, or that of his friends.

Ruan Yuan had a shogunate with a total of about 200 people (this is what we would call a saloon today), and he entrusted its guests (members of the shogunate) with many major projects, such as the compilation of books.

One of these projects was the compilation of "Jikkozai Tschengding Yi Yiqi Inscriptions," and I conducted research on the people involved in the compilation of this book.

The primary motivation for my research was the famous seal engraver Zhao Chen (1781-1860), who is said to have been in charge of the book's copying, and who left behind works of KINBUN, a rarity at the time, and I was very interested in his calligraphy.

For my thesis and master's thesis I had focused on Zhao Chen's calligraphy (an analysis of his work), but for my doctoral thesis I wanted to broaden the scope of my research to include the man and get to the heart of how his calligraphy came about and even more importantly, his view of calligraphy at the time, to understand the factors behind the "various elements" I mentioned earlier.

As mentioned in the title, the first is to read Chinese classics, such as annals, and follow the compilation process of books, and the second is to analyze the calligraphy of the people involved in the compilation of books.

This is the content of my research.

ーI see. It sounds like a difficult study (laughs).

You mentioned the name Zhao Chen earlier, and your calligraphy works are also on display in our online gallery.

Is there any other calligrapher in particular that you like? Why?

My teacher, Mr. Seiu Takagi, is of course my favorite calligrapher, but I also like his teacher, San-u Aoyama, who is also a calligrapher.

I have never met him in person, but I can feel his passion for calligraphy.

His calligraphy is also known as "one work, one look", and each work has a different flavor.

I feel the dynamism of a calligrapher.

 Watanabe Tomitake calligraphy work
"Zhichen Zhao"

ーI have seen some of Mr. Seiu Takagi's works at exhibitions, and I was amazed at their beauty and power. Japanese calligraphy can be roughly divided into "traditional" and "modern" calligraphy. What do you think about this?

I don't think there is any difference between the two.

There is no doubt that they are both "modern calligraphy," and they are very new in terms of expression.

If there is a tradition, it is based more on the essence of the classics of our predecessors.

Therefore, everything should be traditional calligraphy and modern calligraphy.

ーI see. Maybe that's a way of thinking of the younger generation. However, I think the appeal of your work lies in the royal road of traditional calligraphy and its profoundness.

What is the most important aspect of your work and what do you consider characteristic of your own work?

I change the concept of my work every time I create a piece of art, and most of the pieces I have exhibited in KOKKYOKU are based on key people in my doctoral thesis, such as poets and calligraphers. For more information, please refer to the descriptions of the works.

The point of view is different each time I make a work, but I try to create a work that can be appreciated from many different points of view in the end. Basically, I have a vague image of the finished product in the beginning, and as I consider the content of the poem or phrase, the style of the calligraphy, the classics, the materials used, and the front cover, I gradually bring it closer to that image. I try to link these elements with each other, little by little, so that eventually a connection is made between them and the work as a whole.

I'm still groping for the characteristics of my work through trial and error, but I hope that my intentions for my work have been understood. I can't create a single image for each piece, but I try to create with the maximum energy I have at the time while having different images and concepts for each piece, and as a result, I hope I can create a unique look, flavor and expression.

Watanabe Tomitake calligraphy work
"Maiso Non-Saku Kagami by Hands-on Spring"

Watanabe Tomitake calligraphy work
"Tatsumi Poetry"

ーWhat is your future outlook and what do you hope to do in the future?

My goal is to bring the appeal of calligraphy to people around the world. I have had the experience of encountering life-changing calligraphic works, and I would like to be able to convey those emotions to many people. For this reason, I will just keep improving my calligraphy skills and increase the number of opportunities for people to see my work.


However, despite my preconceived notion that traditional calligraphy is a very difficult and difficult concept, Mr. Watanabe is a very interesting person, with a disciplined and serious, yet modern mindset and flexibility. He himself doesn't like to be categorized as "I don't want people to think of me as being rigid by being put into the category of traditional, and I just feel like I'm doing calligraphy freely, without any particular boundaries," but I think that while I think that rigidity is the appeal of traditional, I don't think that writers like Mr. Watanabe are the only ones who have the ability to create a traditional-style I am hopeful that it will bring a new and evolving fascination to calligraphy.

I hope this interview and his work will help you to understand the appeal of calligraphy in a new way.

Watanabe Tomitake Works List

Tomitake calligraphy salon(Mr. Watanabe's calligraphy class)

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