[From April Issue 2010]
TAKEDA Souun, Calligrapher
Last year, the most watched TV-drama series in Japan was the NHK Taiga Drama: Tenchi-jin. The calligrapher who created the title’s dynamic letters was TAKEDA Souun. Souun also currently runs a Japanese calligraphy school in Shonan, Kanagawa Prefecture named Futaba-no Mori, while also holding solo exhibitions and designing product logos and CD jackets.
But Souun goes far beyond merely writing and teaching calligraphy. He also collaborates in performances with famous artists such as the band B’z, and NOMURA Mansai – the traditional kyogen performance artist. Souun also creates huge murals in front of guests, and is continuously active in various endeavors including writing poems with accompanying calligraphy, and lecturing to fellow creators.
“What is natural to me is sometimes extraordinary or new to others,” says Souun. “I had no intention of creating something new or breaking any boundaries. People are just surprised or excited by what I do, so I humbly accept their requests, and that is how I came to work in various fields.”
Souun was born in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1975. He began studying Japanese calligraphy under the tutelage of his mother Souyou, when he was 3 years old. His mother’s teachings were very strict, and since there are many detailed rules in Japanese calligraphy, Souun sometimes got fed up with it. “But I never stopped loving the act of writing letters itself,” Souun says reflectively.
In college he majored in computer science and was then was hired by NTT, one of Japan’s largest telecommunications companies. But, he just couldn’t relate to his colleagues. “When I was in meetings where the executives were also present, I felt the meetings were trivial. So I raised my hand and asked ‘is there any meaning to this meeting?’ Everyone was shocked. There was also the time when I asked a person slacking off, ‘why aren’t you working?’” he fondly remembers.
Souun’s heart was in the right place as they were honest questions asked purely out of curiosity – but some people got angry. Others were bothered by the casual way in which he spoke to his superiors. Looking back on those days, Souun says: “I couldn’t read between the lines. I think I was the kind of person who had many annoying characteristics.”
But Souun doesn’t think he has bad character. “I might have been a minus for the company, but individuality is a plus in the world of art. So I think it is wiser to wait before deciding what’s good and bad. When situations change, minuses can become pluses.”
Souun’s life changed while listening to a street musician’s performance. “Tears started naturally welling up inside me. It made me want to do something to touch people,” he recalls. “As I worked, I felt that ‘all I ever see are printed letters and words from computers, but there’s a warmth to handwritten letters,’ so that motivated me to live my life as a calligrapher.”
Always optimistic, Souun admits that he “gets right back on his feet after a fall.” But in his book of poetry, he writes words such as “Righteousness is something that one considers convenient,” that portray reality as both cold and hard. “There is probably a cheerful Souun and a gloomy Souun inside me. For example, when I look into a child’s face, I sometimes think ‘I am happy, but there are some parents in this world who abuse their children.’ Then I think of how both the abusing parents and the abused children must feel and it makes my eyes water,” he reveals.
Souun advises non-Japanese people learning kanji to study like it’s a game. “It’s not worth your effort if it makes you forget the fun part. And this can be said for more than just kanji. Everyone should have more fun, just make merry, I think,” he advises. And it’s this laid-back character of his that continually attracts more Souun-fans.
“When I am talking to non-Japanese people, I realize things that are otherwise mundane. The points that interest us are the same, and although we may have different features, use different languages and have different cultural backgrounds, I love it when we find common ground,” he affirms.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo