Tokyo Trip 2008 (Part 4): Words that bleed emotion

Side door to the museum

The third museum I visited specialized in calligraphy and is dedicated to Japan’s most famous modern poet and calligrapher, Aida Mitsuo (相田みつを). I had read some of his works from a book I borrowed from a friend but didn’t truly realize it was the same person until walking through the halls of the museum. His writing leaves a huge impact in a striking and bold way. I found a visitors advice on the museum pamphlet to be very intrinsic to the displays. “You can spend two hours here. One hour to look at the writings, and another to reflect on them and life”. Mitsuo's writing is designed to move, to calm and give the reader a parsed, shucked, and unwrapped view of the human experience.

I have yet to find much written about his life in English but here you can find a brief introduction.

Most of his works are easy to understand even for early Japanese language learners and his message is directed towards all people of all ages. His writing style has almost a child like appearance to it but is also well crafted. I think its amazing the truth that comes out in the words but also the strokes of the brush. It looks like every stroke is done with an intense pain or love. That emotion seems to be magnified by the simplicity of his writings. Take for example one of my favorite pieces titled road.

(this is my attempt to translate it)
A road exists because I walk it;
If I don’t walk, the weeds will grow

Personally, this piece says so much about my life and about my failures and successes. Some of those failures were simply not getting up to walk my own path. In other words, the simple act of doing can often lead to the route of success. Our paths are not always clear and often times we have to start our own paths straight into the unknown. It’s inspiring while also being based in truth, or more accurately, Zen philosophies (something that seems to be rubbing off on me these days).

All of the calligraphy pieces have plaques next to them with an English translation. Most of them are pretty good, some are a little off, and others you begin to realize how the calligraphy as an art form conveys a majority of the emotion in each work. There is actually an article on a translator of Mitsuo’s works and some great supplemental reading about Mitsuo here.

Traditional Japanese calligraphy contains specific schools of teaching and styles, some of which are unreadable to the average person. Mitsuo’s work is a departure from traditional writing styles. He also writes in a very personal voice as if he is talking to the reader, something that isn’t found in the traditional schools of calligraphy. Besides all this, his work emphasizes the importance of calligraphy as fine art and its ability to convey emotion.


The museum also contains works by a man named Hoshino Tomihiro (星野富弘), a gymnastics teacher who suffered a severe accident paralyzing him from the neck down. His works are a combination of watercolor painting and prose verse, which he draws completely using his mouth. His works are equally as inspirational for his words and his determination.

One of Hoshino's works

There is sort of a journey that takes place in his works with an internal struggle against himself and his condition that gradually shifts to an appreciation of life and all the simple, beautiful things nature has to offer. His works are an example of the harmony that seems to play out between text and images I often see in Japanese art. The images of flowers are in tune with the themes of the poetry and Hoshino’s handwriting. This is the beginning of one theory I have come to ponder. Does the combination of written word and visual arts constitute for fine art? Also, Does Japanese and Asian arts have a different viewpoint of combining written word and visual art from Western art history? Something I hope to explore and share more about here soon.

After leaving, I took a long sit, pondering over what I had just experienced and came to the conclusion that the works of this museum definitely leave you to reflect on the transience of life.

I’ll leave you with one of Mitso’s most famous pieces.

a lot of ways to translate this one but I'll write two just to be safe, wish I remembered what they wrote in the museum
"Just Human", "Human Being"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful entry! The first poem about the road is so simple and so important. It is interesting and unfamiliar to think of the message being combined with how it appears on the paper since calligraphy is more of just another type face in my world. It seems though that it is about the journey and not the destination.