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Portland Students Earn Rankings in Japanese Calligraphy


Is there such a thing as a black belt in Japanese calligraphy?

Oregon Art Beat got the chance to find out firsthand when they visited Sekko-kai, a Japanese calligraphy school in Portland.

Japanese calligraphy — or shodo, which means “the way of writing” in English — is the art of aesthetic expression in writing.

Calligraphy master Sekko Daigo, who has 40 years of shodo teaching experience, leads Sekko-kai and has set up a system which enables her students to acquire certain rankings in calligraphy from Japan. Her students call her “sensei,” which means teacher or master.

“My school belongs to the largest calligraphy association in Japan called Sogen-kai,” explains Daigo sensei. “We get assignments from them and we send finished work back to them. Then, they evaluate the work and return them back to us.”

In Japan, ranking systems are used to determine skill levels in specific areas of arts, martial arts and games such as Japanese chess. Individuals must pass exams or trials to acquire rankings which indicate their status and how skilled they are.

“Then, there are exams to rank students according to their ability,” says Daigo sensei. “Since the exams are graded in Japan, if you receive a ranking through this system, that will be recognized in Japan. I believe this kind of system is rarely seen in the U.S.”

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Sekko Japanese Calligraphy

Students at Sekko-kai also submit their work to various art exhibitions in Japan, and some of them have won prestigious awards.

Daigo sensei and her students periodically appear at community events to demonstrate their calligraphy. Earlier this year, OPB had the chance to catch up with them when they wrote the first calligraphy of the year as part of the Portland Japanese Garden’s New Year’s celebration.

Tune in to Oregon Art Beat to watch our story on Sekko Daigo sensei on Thursday, March 29 at 8 pm on OPB TV. (Repeats Sunday, April 1 at 6 pm on OPB TV.)

This video was shot by Greg Bond.

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