Tomoko Furukawa: for the beauty of the gesture

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

The art of movement has always attracted him. From her childhood, in Kyoto, the calligrapher Tomoko Furukawa was passionate about Japanese ideograms, their beauty and their meaning. Since then, his artistic quest has also become philosophical and spiritual. What to do when we trace them? Fill the void that emerges between two movements or let it welcome us? The Japanese never ceases to ask herself this question, in her discipline as in Noh theater and painting. Living in Paris since 2008, she now transmits her talent there, to young and old alike.

The premises are deserted on this Monday night strike. Seated to the left of the entrance, Tomoko Furukawa, the bob cut, is reading. Her work placed on a table, in front of her, nothing seems to be able to get her out of her concentration. The phone is ringing. The receptionist of the Tenri association answers in Japanese. Tomoko looks up, sees us, and greets us with a beaming smile.

Behind her, a few steps lead to the library, where mangas and magazines rub shoulders with dictionaries, works of art and economics. “I give calligraphy lessons here, once a month,” she explains in a soft voice. Arms crossed, the native of Kyoto keeps a thoughtful look as she remembers her beginnings in this discipline, at the age of eight. "I was first attracted by the pleasant feeling of the gesture," she reveals, miming a movement on the paper with her right hand. Then, his practice as a child gradually turned towards the search for beauty. “Drawing ideograms is visually beautiful. And even if you write the same character several times, it is different each time. Thinking of this reality of impermanence, Tomoko smiled peacefully. “They say that calligraphy is a mirror of oneself”.

The text and the void on the Ohara mountain

Tomoko is 20 years old when her master retires. Wishing to progress, at 23, she decided to go every weekend to a temple located on the Ohara mountain, west of Kyoto. The artist wants to show us the place and is looking for photos on his mobile phone. On the images stand out a traditional wooden architecture, flowering hydrangeas…

In this green setting, she creates Kakemono – calligraphy to hang – and goshuin – seals made up of a red stamp and a calligraphy, specific to each holy place, which the Japanese collect as a souvenir or for their so-called protective virtues. . These different works help her to enter more concretely into the history of the calligraphers who preceded her, of the techniques, to better understand the meaning of the text and to rub shoulders with this famous void of which her tradition speaks.

“They say that calligraphy is a mirror of oneself”.

Writing is not the only thing to “tell”. “In our culture, the empty space, 'my', is not really empty. This is in connection with the notion of emptiness of Buddhism and with the refined aspect of Japanese interiors. In calligraphy, the white space of the sheet welcomes us and allows the movement of the text. This philosophy also inspires Tomoko in other traditional arts that she has been practicing since she was 23 years old. “In Noh theatre, the stage contains very little scenery. In Ikebana floral art, rather than adding plants, we remove to allow a flower to live. In Nihonga painting too, this notion of space is fundamental”.

“Get out of your frame of mind”

Although this perception of the world, mixing Shintoism and Buddhism, has permeated the calligrapher since childhood, she has always sought to broaden her horizons. In high school, Tomoko studies at a Catholic high school. This Christian education gave him keys to study English literature at university, to “understand the environment of a writer”. And to get to know each other better. Because, “getting out of your frame of thought allows you to discover yourself”, she remarks.

At the age of 28, in 2008, with her master's degree in hand, she arrived in France on a working holiday visa. "I found the country 'a little messy at the start'," she admits with a burst of laughter. In Paris, at the Conservatory, in parallel with calligraphy, she works in visual communication. Then, his residence permit obtained, from 2013 to 2019, Tomoko Furukawa gave his first French lessons at Kagyu Dzong. Today, she leads workshops at the Guimet Museum.

The ritual of gesture

À Guimet like at the Tenri association, the artist is delighted to welcome students of all generations. “Children next to old ladies. Everyone has their own theme. Everyone at their own pace. I learn a lot with them. To illustrate a classic start to a session, the young woman takes a navy blue cloth out of her bag and unrolls her kit, wrapped inside. Very thin mulberry leaves will serve as a support for the calligraphy. Tomoko pours water into a tiny watering can inherited from her grandmother, drips a few drops onto a stone receptacle, and scrapes a stick of solid ink across the wet surface. "I always started with this circular movement on the stone", she says, accompanied by the noises of repetitive friction. “It's like a rite that allows you to enter the practice calmly. »

The water is colored little by little. Tomoko dips her brush in ink, then slides it across the paper. “All students start their lesson by laying down the eight stroke elements, which form the basis for all ideograms. The Japanese girl delicately draws the symbol of eternity on one sheet, that of bamboo on another.

"After a while, these gestures become natural," says Tomoko. While she admits to sometimes practicing seated meditation – without following a particular tradition – for five minutes, in order to “tidy up her thoughts”, she considers the repetitive gesture of calligraphy to be her main meditative practice. “It's like walking or music. »

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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