Brushing up on calligraphy
By Donna Rettew Post-Tribune correspondent July 12, 2012 3:40PM
Gabe Schmaltz, 9, helps his younger sister Anne Schmaltz, 6, both of Valparaiso, write "beauty" in Japanese during a calligraphy program at the Valparaiso Public Library in Valparaiso, Ind., on Monday, June 25, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:12AM
After hundreds of presentations on Japanese culture the past two years, Rumi Mitsubayashi ended her stay in Valparaiso doing what she loved best — teaching young children about calligraphy.
A recent summer library program entitled Colossal Calligraphy allowed the expert on Japanese culture to share her gifts and passions one more time before returning to her country to seek new employment.
As Japan outreach coordinator in the Chinese and Japanese Studies Program at Valparaiso University, Mitsubayashi spent the last two years introducing people of all ages to Japanese culture. She visited all the public schools in the area, as well as several nursing homes and adult day care centers. But she said she spent more time at the Porter County Public Library than anywhere else.
“I have gone to hundreds of schools and talked to thousands of people in Northwest Indiana,” she said. “I went to most places once or twice. But I’ve been to the Valparaiso library more than five times (presenting programs). The library is good. This is my favorite place and some of my favorite people.”
Mitsubayashi, who comes from the Shiga Prefecture in the middle part of Japan, arrived in Valparaiso two summers ago after graduating from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan. She studied intercultural communication with a minor in education.
“I have been a small-culture education ambassador,” she said, “and it was a pleasure to come here.”
Despite the fact that she’s lived two years in the United States, the 20 kindergarten through fifth-graders at the program had some difficulty understanding Mitsubayashi at first, because of her thick accent. She introduced herself and the art of calligraphy, then showed the students the artistic elements that were needed.
She encouraged the students to touch both the rough and smooth sides of the rice paper they would be drawing on, then discussed the ink they would be using.
“What tree do you think this ink comes from?” she asked, finally getting the answer she wanted — the bamboo tree.
The group worked together making Japanese cards out of origami then practiced some beginning calligraphy by copying some significant words in the Japanese language — words like “friend,” “hope,” “love” and “peace.”
Learning calligraphy for the first time was Emma Lovett, 11, of Valparaiso. She attended with her cousin Lauren Skadberg, 10, also of Valparaiso.
“I learned about Japan in Girl Scouts once,” Emma said. She liked the beautiful origami crane that she decorated her card with.
Using brushes made from either raccoon or horse hair, Mitsubayashi taught the students to mix a little water in the ink and coat their brushes, then drain off most of the ink. They began by learning the Japanese word for “friend,” using a series of five brushstrokes.
Soon rice papers were piling up around each of the students as they became less and less intimidated to try new words. The final word they learned was “dream,” using a total of 16 brushstrokes. It’s also Mitsubayashi’s favorite word.
“The symbols looked hard to make,” Emma said, “but actually were easy when taken step by step.”
By the end of the class, Lauren was holding her brush like an expert.
“I had fun learning the words,” she said. “I like drawing. This may be useful in my drawing.”
Mitsubayashi’s dream, once she returns to Japan, is to begin teaching American education and culture to students in Japan.