If I remember correctly, my first encounter with calligraphy was when I was around 5 years old. by Aki Tsuchiya

【My First Encounter with Calligraphy】

If I remember correctly, my first encounter with calligraphy was when I was around 5 years old. I believe I used to follow my father and attend his calligraphy class with him. Before I knew it, I had a brush in my hand.

As years passed, however, the teacher eventually closed the class because of age. I ended up attending another class with a teacher who was arranged to become a master.

During the 4 years in college, however, I focused my energy on kendo, which I had been doing for many years. Yet, I always had the tools for calligraphy in my room, and I would be holding the brush whenever I had the time.

【Hotel Worker and the Side Job as a Novice Calligrapher】

I originally worked as a hotelman and built up my career serving at the restaurant, being a bellboy and doorman, and doing valet services. However, at some point, I became conscious about “something only I can do.” I realized that calligraphy was the answer.

I immediately visited my old master and while working at the hotel, I practiced for 2 years and acquired a teaching license. I was overwhelmed with joy, “I was now a member of the professionals.”

【Fate and My First Job】

One day, I received a request from the hotel manager who was a temporary worker at that time. He asked, “I want you to teach me letters,” and so the lessons began. This spread around the hotel staff and I began receiving bigger requests. “There’s a party coming up. Do you want to do a performance?” “There’s a Tanabata* event going on in the club floor. I will get the requests from guests. Can you write their strips?” All of it ended in great success and it boosted my confidence.

*An annual event where people decorate bamboo trees with colorful pieces of paper for Orihime and Hikoboshi to come together. People write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them from bamboo branches, which is said to make their wishes come true.

【The Bitter Experience】

Introduced by a friend, I received a request to teach a class on penmanship to the salesmen of an insurance company. I prepared the information for the presentation and presented it to the client and my friend.

However, I received some harsh words. “Why do you charge such a high price, even though you’re not even famous. It’s like you don’t understand the value of money.”

I was focusing too much on profit and not enough on quality. I questioned myself. “What am I trying to do?” “What is my purpose?” It was a good chance of self-reflection.


Chinese paper and sumi ink
29.41 × 23.62 inch
$500 (with Frame)

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【My First Solo Exhibition “Resonating Music and Calligraphy”】

One day, a street performance of a violinist and contrabass (double bass) player caught my attention. Their perfect harmony enticed me to ask, “Do you want to collaborate with me and open a solo exhibition?” I presented my proposal to the boss of their affiliated company and received permission. However, such a big project could not be done by myself, so I asked my students and friends for some help and launched a project team. With the help of the team, the boss of the music company, and the two artists, I was able to succeed in performing the calligraphy performance and closing for 120 guests.

However, I started questioning myself, “Did my artwork leave a lasting impression?”

【Second Master and the Traditions of Japanese Calligraphy】

I realized that my skills and knowledge were not enough, so I became an apprentice in the top, most powerful group in the Japanese calligraphy world.

I thoroughly studied the old Japanese books, mastered the techniques, learned the history and tools thoroughly, and saw my style of calligraphy visibly change. After learning under my master for half a year, I received the opportunity to challenge myself in a national exhibition. I entered a poem I wrote on a big 136×70 cm paper and was nominated for an award. It was exhibited at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Even though I did not win the award, it was the first time in my life that my artwork was exhibited at a big Japanese stage and a moment when I realized that hard work pays off. However, soon after, I was forced to leave my master.

When I was initially inspired, I was already studying under a different master. However, without permission, I decided to study under the other master. This is a rule violation and considered a taboo in the calligraphy world. When my original master found this out, I was forced to leave my second master.

I was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt, and as I was about to leave, the second master said, “Just come back another time.” At that moment, I realized that I was bound to the chain of this industry. “If I continue with this, I’m never going to be able to draw my own artworks!!” A feeling of independence stirred up.

【The Encounter and Independence. The Determination to Challenge Myself Abroad】

I have met so many people that have changed my life.

My mentor, Yukichika Iijima, has visited hotels abroad and knows both Japan and abroad. At the age of 78, he has emphasized, “In this current age, it is important for Japanese people to live in a global society with the awareness that they are Asian. There is no time to be concerned about Japan’s old politics or bad customs. Go abroad.” In the master and the apprentice relationship, the apprentice needs permission from the master to do anything. Around this time was when I decided to disregard such traditional Japanese ways and follow my own path.

Takashi Katano, who supported me till the very end, has always bragged about me to others, saying “I have a friend whose not only a hotelman, but also a calligrapher.” When he was hospitalized due to cancer, I visited him and he talked passionately about his dreams. I gave him my artwork titled, “Phoenix,” and with big eyes and a thick, strong voice he said, “Tsucchi (nickname), you’ve grown. You better show your work to the world.” That was his last message to me. I have met so many wonderful people, but all of it led to one thing: “The fate and encounter of new people will continue to help me grow. Live the life I want and move forward strongly to support my family.” Those words have begun to appear in my actions. This was when I was introduced to JCAT. I passed the entry process, became a member, and started my journey to challenge myself abroad.

【The Big World and My Challenge】

I exhibited at the Made in Japan 2020 Exhibition and presented my artwork, “Extreme-煌極 (brilliance)-.” When I received the email about the information on JCAT, I was stunned by the level of quality. I asked for advice from an acquaintance, Takamitsu Sakamoto, who is a world-renown photographer. “The culture is different depending on the place. You have to understand the culture. Moreso, you need to master it. And break it.” Until that point, I was solely focused on calligraphy, so I began reading more books, going to different art museums, and immersed myself in my studies in order to understand the appreciation for art. I had to admit, it was clear that I do not have enough knowledge, especially because I did not graduate from an art school or take a college course on calligraphy. In order to make up for it, I began working hard.

The endless journey continues. Each experience brings me closer to my style of “the thing next to someone.” Believing that it will connect to someone else’s happiness, and not my own self-satisfaction, I would like to continue challenging myself as I move forward.

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