Japanese Calligraphy Scroll Story

Calligraphy, Cultural

Mrs. Kazuko Ishii was born in Tokyo in 1928 and graduated from Hohseh University (with a major in Japanese Literature). She started teaching in Tokyo and became a Principal of the Shimo Elementary School. After her retirement, she started teaching Japanese penmanship and calligraphy, and for almost thirty years at Negishi, Kawaguchi City, in the Saitama prefecture. She taught two classes; shodoh (using a brush pen) and penmanship (using a regular pen).

In her retirement, Mrs. Ishii created a beautiful forty-foot-long calligraphy scroll of the famous story by Matsuo Bashō, “The Narrow Road to Oku”, published in 1694.

The poetic travelogue, considered one of the greatest works of classical Japanese literature, was begun in 1689 when Bashō sold his home outside Edo (Tokyo) and traveled on foot to the remote northern provinces of Japan. Five months of the journey are described in exquisite prose that combines intimate details of his journey with historical background, fictional anecdotes, literary allusions, and his own emotional responses, often expressed in haiku. Although the work is secular, Bashō clearly seeks spiritual enlightenment and a reaffirmation of values that he feels have been lost in the era of the shoguns.

In this video, our presenter, a personal friend of Mrs. Ishii, shows the long scroll and reads a few chapters of the story. Mrs. Ishii gave the scroll to our presenter several years ago as a special gift.

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