By Noriko Maeda
One recalls a typical image of summer in Japan when we think of salted edamame enjoyed with a cold draft beer. Edamame is one of those words which has claimed a familiar place within the English language.
For some Japanese words, it is necessary to use lengthy explanations to define expansive sense of feelings that each encompasses. The words “wabi” and “sabi” have a strong association to Japanese culture. In English, these words are defined in ways that express “imperfect beauty”, but there have been no definitions that perfectly match the meaning of “wabi” and “sabi”. In order to capture these notions, one needs to take into consideration such factors as the season, historical background, and spirituality which are specific to each word’s used in Japanese. For the Japanese imagination, it is not difficult to conjure the appearance of a temple’s well weathered main gate or an antique bowl, cracked and repaired with a golden line, when hearing these words. Despite the difficulties of translation, “wabi” and “sabi” have become beloved words in English vocabularies across the globe.
Hideo Kobayashi, famous for his essay “Facts About Impermanence” left many famous quotes. In one of his writings, he notes “that the Japanese sense of beauty is oftenSh contained and depicted in what is difficult to translate into foreign languages.” My experience has convinced me of this statement’s truth.
There are many Japanese words that are difficult to translate into foreign languages. The word “ma” conveys in one word the idea of space, time and distance. “Okuyukashisa” can mean courteousness or humility. “Awai” can mean faint or light. “Isagiyoi” can mean bravely, manly or with no hesitation. “Mononoaware” is used to evoke the poetic beauty and sadness of being or things. “Mottainai” means both wasteful and too good.
My name is Noriko Maeda, and I am a shoka, which translates in to English as calligrapher. For the last 20 years since having moved to Canada, I have been translating my practice of “sho” into a global context through different media and projects.
I do not often translate “sho” as “calligraphy”, and there is an intention as to why I have kept the word “sho” while working in North American. I believe that “calligraphy” and Japanese “sho” are different concepts. “calligraphy” is a technique for writing beautiful letters where each letter is indifferent and conveys no particular content. A letter’s meaning lies only in the entirety of a word or text. Whereas I believe “sho” works with the “expression” of characters, each of which carries a unique meaning. Every character is at once a poem and a story graciously woven in black ink and blank spaces. Every brush stroke carries with it a powerful charm.
In the Japanese sense of beauty there is a universality that has been nurtured over a long period of time. Backed by a long Japanese tradition, this beauty has an enormous depth that can be intertwined and harmonized with the modern world. I take it as a mission imposed on me by a citizen of the 21st century, living away from Japan, to share the splendor of “sho” with the world.
I want to live as a “shoka”, proud to be Japanese. I will strive to give “sho” weight and presence, and present it positively in such a way that “sho” will be ever more present in the global world.