A Week in the Life of a Calligraphy Student

Pictured: Me interperting an ancient text

At the beginning of April, I came to Japan on a Monbusho Scholarship to study Japanese Calligraphy at Shikoku University. Previous blog entries about exactly what the Monbusho Scholarship is and how I got involved in it can be found here.

Now that I’ve been here in Japan for almost two months now, I think I have enough of a sense of what the experience is shaping up to be to write an overview of what a typical week is like.

Although I’m officially designated as an independent research student, the calligraphy department faculty has been kind enough to allow me to sit in on regular classes for the first semester, to serve as a crash course to the various styles of Japanese Calligraphy. Every weekday I have one class, except for Thursdays when I have three. Below is a list of the subjects I’m studying:

Regular Script (twice a week)
Seal Script
Semi-cursive Script
Cursive Script
History of Chinese Calligraphy

This goes without saying probably, but all of the classes are conducted in Japanese. In fact I wasn’t even sure what the calligraphic styles were called in English when I started writing this blog entry, and had to look them up on Wikipedia.

For all but the history class, the classes are pretty hands on. They usually begin with the professor providing a short explanation about what we’ll be practicing that day, possibly in the form of a mini-history lecture.

That’s followed maybe by a demonstration, and then the rest of the class is devoted to practicing writing something from a handout or our textbook.

The History of Chinese Calligraphy class, on the other hand, is a standard lecture class. This was the class I was most worried about when I first started. Much to my surprise, however, I’m actually able to understand most of it (with the help of my Japanese electronic dictionary) and it’s pretty interesting.

I will say this though; my Japanese level is such that I need to pay really careful attention to understand what is being said. I can sustain that level of concentration for about an hour or so. After that, my comprehension takes a nosedive, and by the end of a ninety minute class, I just can’t keep focused, and understand almost nothing. So by the end of the day on Thursday, having attended three classes totaling four and a half hours, I’m physically exhausted down to my bones. On Thursdays I drag my carcass home the minute classes are over, and veg out.

On every other weekday, I usually stay at school after class and practice what I’ve learned. There’s a huge room for this purpose, carpeted in felt. Oftentimes other students will be in there,¬†practicing calligraphy on long sheets of paper laid out on the floor.

So far I’ve been very happy with my studies here at Shikoku University. I haven’t been here long yet, but feel like I’ve already learned a lot. I’ll write about some of the harebrained conclusions I’ve drawn, as well as show some of my calligraphy, at some point in the coming months.

But for now, I’ll leave it at this. Next week’s entry will be devoted to my new surroundings, and the people I’ve met here.

  • aspiring

    Hi Lars! Thanks so much for all the essential info you’ve posted on your blog. This is such a great help for an aspiring Monbusho scholar like me. Anyhow, I’d like to know if you were still required to undergo a japanese language training prior to starting your stint as a research student. I’ver read on the guidlines from the embassy that they might be asking garntees to undergo a 6-month language training course first before proceeding to research. Thanks much fro all the info! God bless you!

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Aspiring,

    Whether or not you do the six months of language training is totally at the discretion of your host university. If they think you need it to do your research, you do it, if they don’t think you need it, you don’t. I don’t know how they determine that; probably by looking at your test scores, and maybe through whatever interaction they’ve had with you.

    For me, Shikoku University decided I didn’t need it, so I just came straight here and started my research right away. I was nervous about my language abilities at first, but so far I’ve been doing okay.

    Good luck on your bid for the Monbusho!


  • I’ve just read Tonoharu. It is great. I can’t wait for the next one.
    You have a great sense of timing with your panels and postures – It’ll be interesting to see how your painstakingly crafted calligraphy will flavour your painstakingly crafted comics.

    kore wa doko desu ka

    (thats all I know)

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Inks,

    Thanks for the kind words!


  • Pingback: Talking with Tim » Blog Archive » Lars Martinson on Tonoharu()

  • Hello!
    I’ve found this site accidentally, but its great!
    I study calligraphy in a country where there is no calligraphy school. I applied for Monbusho but I had not enough score to pass unfortunately. So right now I am in search for other possibilities for scholarship to learn japanese calligraphy.
    I have now 2 dan, learning since 8 years ago and very serious but bimbo:)))
    Do you think I could find another scholarship? You probably have a better insight how it goes in Japan than me.
    Monika from Hungary