A Life of Prayer: Kanazawa Shōko (Video)Culture
Kanazawa Shōko was born with Down syndrome, but her disability has not stopped her from becoming one of Japan’s top calligraphers. She has brought hope, encouragement, and good cheer to countless people, not only in Japan but around the world. A retrospective of her artwork, centering on 60 major pieces created since her professional debut a dozen years ago, was held at the Ueno Royal Museum from September 23 to 30, 2017, during which she twice created large new works in front of visitors. The exhibition attracted 40,000 people over just seven days and was the culmination of the collaborative artistic endeavor between Shōko and her mother, Yasuko.
The highlight of the show was the showcasing of the calligrapher’s rendition of 風神雷神 (fūjin raijin)—the gods of wind and thunder—alongside the folding screen painting of the deities by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (1558–1637), a National Treasure held by the temple Kenninji of Kyoto. “Shōko had never seen Sōtatsu’s renowned work,” her mother recounts in her book, Kanazawa Shōko: Namida no Hannya Shingyō (Kanazawa Shōko: Tears Heart Sutra). “And her first attempt at depicting the four characters was rather banal. It wasn’t bad, but then again, it wasn’t that special either. Her second attempt was markedly better. “Good enough,” I thought, and I told her that she could now write as she pleased. When she finished the third piece, I was astonished to see what she had done. The placement of the characters was a near perfect replication of the original painting. It was as if Sōtatsu’s spirit had descended on Shōko and guided her on the positioning of the letters.
Kanazawa Shōko moved out of her parent’s house and began living on her own two years ago, when she turned 30. Her mother considers Shōko’s latest exhibition in Ueno to be the last for the foreseeable future. “For me, the show is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to everyone who’s supported us over the years,” Yasuko says. “My days have been filled with prayer ever since Shōko was born. The things I’ve prayed for have changed with time, and today I no longer pray to have my wishes fulfilled but rather to express gratitude for all the wonderful things that have happened in our lives. Prayer, for both me and Shōko, has been a constant companion in our lives.”
Production and copyright: Nippon.com
Direction: Sugiyama Sachiko
Filming: Yoshida Hideo
Technical support: Nakata Ryōhei
Video editing: Mochizuki Hirofumi
Sound editing: Tanaka Keiko