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A Little and A Lot

In which someone asks a question on the SCA Japanese FB page and scrambles my brain. HE Baron Akitsuki Yoshimitsu asked about the translation of a certain modern piece of Chinese calligraphy, dated 1958, by Wing Gig Fong, a Chinese-American artist.

Here’s the piece, which is owned by the Smithsonian institution. You can see the piece here on their webpage.

1984.124.91_1.tif

Wah…abstract modern sosho! My brain! The top character is almost certainly 少 (ON: shou KUN suku/suko) which means few, little. Which makes sense as the original Chinese for the phrase the piece was named was 少则得多则惑 “He who obtains has little, he who scatters has much”). But the second one has me puzzled. Maybe 不 (ON: fu KUN: zu) which means un-, non-. But while 少不 is not a really a word, 不少 (fushou) in Japanese means “not many” while 不少 ((bùshǎo) in Chinese means “a lot of”. It could be the artist is punning and including a little and a lot in the same piece. But I’m really stretching here and could be completely wrong. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

It’s certainly not a name or anything. Considering that it is a 20th century abstract piece, I don’t think I’m too far off in my guess of its meaning. But again, not sure on the lower kanji, and I do Japanese, not Chinese. (Any Chinese I know is second-hand through my Japanese studies, and I can’t pronounce it AT ALL.)

Anyway, that killed about two hours of my day. It’s so frustrating! I got to take an intensive Japanese course about 13 years ago, and have tried to learn on my own since then, but self-study is not easy, and my chances of doing the immersive thing and staying in Japan for 6 months to a year are nada.

If I am completely off base here, please comment and let me know. It’s the only way to learn!

A few notes here: modern sosho can be quite different from classical sosho, which tends to be very thin and whispy. The style I study with my shodo teacher, which was taught by the calligraphy master Kampo Harada-sensei, tends to be of a modern bent. For SCA purposes, most of the styles (tensho, reisho, kaisho, and gyousho) are not far off, but Kampo’s sosho was very stylized and modern. He could do the classical style, of course, but a lot of what I’ve seen of his own work has a very mid-20th century feel. It’s beautiful, but something to keep in consideration if you are working on a Japanese scroll for SCA–try to work off of pre-16th century examples. Copperplate is a beautiful hand for Roman-style letters, but not something the SCA would use in a scroll since it is more 18th-19th century. Same applies here.

A link about Kuzushiji

Just putting this link here until I have more time to check into the subject. An Introduction to Kuzushiji.

Kuzushiji 崩し字 is that sosho-looking print script that was very popular in Edo-period texts. Very similar to sosho in several aspects, but lacks sosho’s elegance. Somewhere around here I have a book about the history of Japanese printing, and will look in that to see more.

I can make out some characters, due to my shodo studies, but can’t really say that I can “read” it.

Scroll: Calon Cross for Saito Takauji

So now that it has been handed out, here are pictures of the scroll that I was working on. The Calon Cross is a Grant of Arms (GOA) level award in Calontir (they do pre-prints for AOA level awards) and is given out for service. Uji is a friend, so I was very happy to be given this assignment.

The text says: That the loyal civil acts of Saito Takauji, for the Society, the Grand Council, and as Gold Falcon Herald are excellent and will be rewarded, is stated thus. We raise him to the Order of the Calon Cross.
Damien, King
Issabel, Queen
Year of the Society 52 year, 8 month, 26 day

Saito Takauji dono ha Shakai ya Dai hyougi-kai no chuusei koto to kintaka denreisha koto ga shinmyou, onjou no jou koto kuden.
Shin juujika gumi ni irareru.

Damien mikado heika
Issabel chuugu heika

Shakai gojuu ni nen hachigatsu nijuu roku nichi
斎藤高氏殿社会大評議会忠誠事金鷹伝令者事神妙可有恩賞之状如件
心十字架組入
ダアミエン帝陛下
イサベル中宮陛下
社会五十二年八月二十六日

The model I used was from the Documents of Iriki, 96-2, #83-C, from Kenmu 3, 8th month, 17th day (September 22, 1336), given to one Shibuya Shigekatsu by Ashikaga Takauji, the first Shogun of the Ashikaga line. I took some set phrases from it, and added what phrases were needed for this award. I had Foro Pallavincino (Baron Christoforo from Northshield, who has a degree in Japanese and lived there for a few years), look over my Japanese text and make suggestions, which I then modified a bit. It is all in kanji–the hiragana that would be used in particles were not usually written down in these documents. Ink on washi paper, pre-mounted scroll. The kanji is written in kaisho script (the original was in gyousho script, but I was going for clarity here). The painting is based on a portrait of the poet Ki no Tomonori (who bears an amazing resemblance to Uji!), done in the Nise-e style.

takauji_finished_scroll_detail

takauji_full_scroll

I definitely learned a lot while doing this scroll. There are some things (mainly in the brushwork) that I feel could be better, but the recipient was very happy, and that is what matters. I’m looking forward to tackling another design in the future.

English-language Tensho Exemplar

My shodo teacher Tony Skeen just published a couple of reference books that will help those looking to make inkan (seals). Both are intended to be used in tandem with the New Nelson’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary.

The first volume is to help people sound-out their (non-Japanese) names in Kanji. There are choices–you can go by meaning, but then the pronunciation will be completely different, or you can go by pronunciation and find comparable kanji–THEN you have to watch for the meaning and also double-check to make sure it doesn’t have some slang meaning in Japanese that might be embarrassing. So this first volume is a list of kanji by sound, in English alpha-order. Choosing Kanji for Use on a Seal Stone

The second volume has brushed tensho-script examples of the kanji from the first volume, both as normal and also in reverse (which is how you would carve it to make a seal). As far as I know, there is no other English-language resource on tensho-script that is this detailed. Tensho Kanji for Making a Seal Stone

Both of these are meant to be used in tandem with the New Nelson’s Japanese/English Character Dictionary. Nelson’s is one of the best J/E Kanji Dictionaries available. Here is the Goodreads link to it. They have it listed new on Amazon for $44 dollars, but seriously, shop around. I found mine new on Ebay for $18, and sometimes you can find it for even less! The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary. NOTE: Be sure and get the latest version, so the numbers match up. Also, it’s much larger than the original.

I’ve been studying shodo with Tony Skeen for over a year now. He’s a certified instructor through Nihon Shuji Kyoiku Zaidan and has been practicing shodo for over 20 years. The books are pricey, but he’s not making much of a profit–the cost is mainly due to the books being self-published on small print runs.

He let me look at the proofs when he was working on the book and the books are very to-the-point. He just wants to make it easier for people to make better inkan. The online sites that offer to create tensho often use a computer font. These are HAND BRUSHED examples.