by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2018
Ink, like tea and rice, is an essential part of Japanese culture.
In Pictures from the Water Trade, John David Morely writes a chapter devoted to shodo, or the art of calligraphy. The passion and the poetry of his writing make his account of his lessons in calligraphy a rare adventure. Of all the books I’ve read on a foreigner’s experiences in Japan, and I’m well into double digits, this book remains a favorite.
The Abbot of Kiyomizudera creates ofuda to protect Dr. Harrington from the dangers he faces. Ofuda are Sanskrit sutras written on parchment using a calligraphy brush and traditional ink. The preparation of the ink alone is fascinating.
In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue. An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility, concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings. Inksticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.
On Putting on Airs (Thirty Days Later), the Abbot provides Dr. Harrington with an ofuda to put on his front gate. Nothing supernatural with malignant intent can enter through that gateway. In The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later), a yokai of considerably greater power and menace is hunting Dr. Harrington through Kyoto’s nighttime streets. This requires an ofuda to be carried by Dr. Harrington at all times!