Writing

Saving ‘woman hand’: the artist rescuing girl-handiest writing

Anyone who has ever fired off a text in haste will sympathize with the first point on eleventh-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s listing of “infuriating things”: “Thinking of 1 or modifications inside the wording when you’ve despatched off a response to someone’s message.”
This listing, her messages, and her Pillow Book wherein they’re recorded – a sparklingly acerbic, weblog-fashion frolic through the lives of Heian-generation aristocrats – have been written the use of kana, a Japanese script mainly utilized by ladies for almost a millennium to write down literature, set up secret assignations and specific themselves freely in the confines of court life.
Women in medieval Japan have been discouraged from analyzing kanji – characters modeled on written Chinese which constitute man or woman phrases – and started out using kana, which transcribe words phonetically. A standardization program at the beginning of the 20 the century saw ninety% of the 550 characters used in kana die out. But these forgotten characters are now being stored alive with the aid of the artist and master of Japanese calligraphy Kaoru Akagawa, who have become enthusiastic about them after interpreting letters from her grandmother.
“Reading my grandmother’s letters was usually hard for me as a teenage girl,” remembers Akagawa. “Her handwriting gave the impression of scribbling, and I used to invite her to put in writing well.” But years later, all through Akagawa’s calligraphy training, she had a revelation while taking a journey along Himekaido, a historic trading course favored using girls travelers. Reading files written in kana housed in castles and temples, Akagawa says: “I felt as if I had been studying records of my DNA.” Far from being scribbles, she realized, her grandmother was writing to her using the same script.
Akagawa uses the forgotten kana in a fashion of calligraphy called kana shodo, and additionally fuses traditional calligraphy with new techniques in a manner she’s named kana artwork, where heaps of minutely painted kana shape larger pix and paper sculptures.
“When humans speak approximately Japanese calligraphy, they usually suggest kanji shodo,” Akagawa explains, “a style imported from China, practiced with the aid of samurais and monks.” Kana shodo makes use of a script which was regarded using the 10th century as onnade, or “female hand,” she continues, which became “the backbone of a woman-dominated literary tradition.”
Sei Shōnagon’s current Murasaki Shikibu wrote her masterpiece The Tale of Genji – often known as the sector’s first novel – using kana, which had been frequently associated with personal and emotional existence. Men who wanted to answer to like letters sent by way of noblewomen used kana themselves to answer. And the culture lasted for loads of years; the 19th-century novelist Ichiyō Higuchi used kana script for her sympathetic portrait of the lifestyles of a geisha, Nigorie (Troubled Waters).
Japan’s government standardized writing in 1900, establishing the device of kanji, hiragana, and katakana characters used aspect-through-facet in cutting-edge written Japanese. Only 50 of more than 550 kana characters have been retained, growing the gojūon (“fifty sounds”) syllabaries used these days. By the second one world warfare, information of the older kana had nearly vanished. One of the ultimate era to use the script in everyday life become Akagawa’s grandmother, born in 1921: “When I told her I was learning kana shodo, she became very thrilled.”
Women have evolved writing structures for their very own use all over the world, in part due to the fact they were excluded from training structures designed for guys. Perhaps the most splendid instance is nüshu, a code-like script understood simplest with the aid of ladies from Jiangyong county in China’s Hunan province, used to document autobiographies, songs, letters, and embroidered poems. While the final lady to examine nüshu historically, Yang Huanyi, died in 2004, efforts by Hunan girls and Tsinghua University professor Zhao Liming have ended in drives to preserve it.
In medieval Europe, wherein Latin ruled the literary way of life; ladies were a driving force behind the improvement of the literature in the language of regular speech. In twelfth-century France, the court of Marie de Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, fizzed with literary activity, with Marie commissioning some of our maximum enduring versions of Arthurian legends from poet Chrétien de Troyes. In 14th-century Britain – wherein English, French and Latin were all used to various levels – one model of famous gynecological handbook The Trotula declared that it becomes translated into English “due to the fact women can better examine and understand this language than any other”, sparing them the embarrassment of finding a man to translate it.
Whether writing Japanese classics, love letters, or embroidered messages, ladies have circumvented proper conversation channels in innovative ways all through records. As Akagawa remarks, such handwritten texts regularly feel very private: “I’m continually surprised how this type of easy motion as handwriting can affect audiences’ feelings so deeply.”

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