Messages of thanks and support come flooding in for shodo beginner.

Japanese Twitter user Waka (@wakachan02) and her American husband live in Washington state. Though they’re on the opposite side of the Pacific from her homeland, Waka’s husband recently decided to try his hand at shodo, Japanese calligraphy.

Enthusiastic about the artform, he decided to post a photo of one of his shodo projects on Facebook, and Waka found one of the responses he got to be very startling.

“The other day, my husband tried doing some shodo. When he posted a photo of it on Facebook, an American acquaintance (who doesn’t have any Japanese cultural connection) said ‘There are people who spend years studying calligraphy at school to become professionals. What you’re doing is cultural appropriation. Stop it.’ The comment has my husband feeling really depressed.”

“Personally, I think it’s important for people to understand and share cultures, and it’s interesting too,” Waka added in a follow-up tweet, and other Japanese Twitter users couldn’t agree with her quickly enough, with reactions to her story including:

“As a fellow Japanese person, I don’t see anything wrong with what your husband did. I hope he’ll continue to have fun while practicing shodo.”
“It’s a happy thing when someone from another country takes an interest in Japanese culture…Please thank your husband for taking up shodo.”
“I want to express, from the bottom of my heart, how grateful I am to your husband for his interest in Japanese calligraphy.”
“It’s wonderful when people from overseas learn about traditional Japanese arts and culture. It’s a shame some people don’t understand that. To your husband, I’d like to say: ‘It’s cool man. Go for it.’”
“I remember when some people overseas were shouting ‘Cultural appropriation!’ when the American game company Sucker Punch made Ghost of Tsushima, but that was a masterpiece and very well received here in Japan.”
“No matter where you were born, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being interested in another country’s culture.”
“I’m grateful that your husband is interested in Japanese culture. And even more than that, I’m impressed, and deeply moved, that he’s actively practicing it.”

The last comment is particularly significant. Japan’s island-country geography and shogunate-enforced isolation during its feudal era greatly limited the country’s contact with other parts of the world, which in turn was a major factor in the development of Japan’s unique cultural and artistic heritage. However, for all of Japan’s pride in its heritage, there really isn’t a societal belief that those cultural traditions are something that Japan owns, and that foreigners are only allowed to respect from a hands-off distance. Rather than detached, observational admiration, participatory passion is what really makes Japanese people feel honored when it comes to how Japanese culture is treated by those from abroad, as the flood of encouraging reactions to Waka’s tweet attest.

Naturally, she shared those messages with her husband, and his reaction to those reactions…

…was to pick up his brush and take on another shodo challenge, this time writing the kanji for yume, or dream (she also mentions that he enjoyed listening to Japanese enka music while taking his morning shower).

Sure, his brushwork isn’t perfect, but it’s quite good for a beginner. And besides, it’s the thought, and the dream, of people actively sharing and appreciating each other’s cultures that counts.

Source: Twitter/@wakachan02 (1, 2)
Top image: Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where his shodo project was writing “nekketsu.”