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30 years of Waseda University's own calligrapher

Taigo Watanabe
Waseda University commissioned calligrapher, Developing Calligraphy Research Company representative

I entered Waseda University in June 1982 when the university was celebrating its centenary. There was a lot of work related to the centenary commemoration, and because my predecessor had reached an advanced age, I was approached as his successor.

I was employed as a part-time work for about one year and worked alongside my predecessor, but the workload was far more than I had expected.

At the time I had about a total of 50 child and adult pupils, and I felt it was impossible to handle my classes as well as the Waseda job, so I entrusted all my students to a friend, and half a year after starting work at Waseda, I was employed full-time.

30 years on, I would like to talk a little about my thoughts of life as Waseda University's own calligrapher.

From "Toilet" to "Honorary Doctor Diploma"

When I started work, in my office there was a single large word processor, unthinkable of these days, which was almost totally unused. The copier smelt bad due to blueprints, so putting it nicely, it was a contraption that made copies that weren't exactly beautiful. Accordingly, almost all signs had to be handwritten, and there were lots of trivial handwritten signs, such as "toilet", which I no longer have to write.

Holding diploma with Samsung President Lee Kun-hee (left)

I wrote those with the least bit of worry, but in stark contrast, I am nervous, even now, when I write "honorary doctor diplomas." Recipients include prominent people such as presidents, kings, crown princes, Nobel Prize laureates, Secretary General of the United Nations, and national university presidents. In addition to that, the cover is damask embroidered with the university emblem, the inside cover is made of thick patterned paper, and you must write on high quality writing paper folded in a pattern called kotyoso. Unlike normal letters of thanks and certificates, because you can't simply rewrite them if you make a mistake, you are under pressure not to make any writing errors.

Since my first writing for James William Fulbright in 1982, I have written diplomas for over 100 people, but, even though I have given my utmost efforts, I truly feel that there is no work where I can puff out my chest and give full marks to.

Standing signboards written with the students' eyes in mind

There are various mediums in the copying business such as thank you letters, certificates and diplomas, but one of the biggest jobs, with about 700 requests a year, is writing standing signboards.

Standing signboards throughout the campus is the best opportunity for my "writing" to catch the eyes of the students. Of course they also catch the eyes of the faculty and staff, but for me as the writer, I write many things with the students' eyes in mind. In other words, I write in a style suitable for the content of the event, and embrace the thought of students seeing the signboard and thinking, "I want to participate," or "I want to see that."

The first sign students see upon entering university is a giant sign saying "Waseda University Entrance Ceremony Venue". Most of the students had probably never seen the calligraphic style "mokkanrei" until they entered the university. This sign includes the message "At university you will experience many "firsts" like this sign, such as seeing things you haven't seen before and doing things you have never done. Enjoy your studies to the utmost!" Of course, I think most of the students do not feel that way. However, there were a few times when students actually felt that way.

Once, in a gallery in Denen Chofu where I was holding an exhibition with a photographer, a recent graduate who, "saw the signs around campus and thought, even just once, I wanted to meet the person who wrote those," found the information on my blog and made his way to the exhibition. With those kinds of things I am filled with joy that my thoughts have reached the students. As a matter of fact, it makes me grateful of being a calligrapher.

Left: In front of the entrance ceremony venue, Right: In front of the Theatre Museum

Stone monuments left for future generations

I have also been commissioned to do work to be left for future generations such as the "Ono Azusa Information Monument" in Seiho-ji Temple in Sukumo, Kochi Prefecture, the book-shaped "Ono Azusa Honoring Monument" next to a bust of Ono Azusa in Ono Azusa Park, Sukumo, "Abe Baseball Ground Remains Monument" in the Center for Scholarly Information, "Waseda Doxology Monument" in front of the Okuma Auditorium, and the "Chiune Sugihara Honoring Monument" in front of Building No.14.

There is nothing more pleasing to a calligrapher than leaving one's work for future generations. While, at the same time, there are times when you think you can't leave poor works behind, and if those works happen to remain, they shame you for the rest of your life. However, that alone made them jobs worth doing.

As one of the centenary celebration events, I travelled all the way to Sukumo to attend the unveiling of the "Ono Azusa Information Monument" that was erected in Seiho-ji Temple in 1986. When I was introduced as the calligrapher, there were voices of surprise that it was the work of a youthful and handsome (laughs) 35-year old man, and I received praise for it being good writing, and the enthusiasm shown is something I will never forget.

The "Waseda Doxology Monument", which was unveiled on October 5, 2007 with the 125th anniversary commemorative ceremony looming, is a soft form stone monument designed by Faculty of Science and Engineering professor Nobuaki Furuya. The professor thanked me by saying, "Thank you for writing suitable and warm characters in the form of my design." In the same way, I also received these words of gratitude from songwriter Iwao Iwasaki, "Thank you for writing my song in such wonderful characters." These are also words that are an honour and pleasure to receive for a calligrapher.

Left: Ono Azusa Information Monument, Right: Waseda Doxology Monument

Souvenir calligraphy

I have also written characters on presents to be given as souvenirs to foreign guests who visit the university, or on souvenirs to be taken on overseas trips. Especially of late, because people appear pleased to receive souvenirs with characters, I have written characters on lacquer letter boxes, small plates and fans, one after another.

I also created the hand towel design for the Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center 10th Anniversary commemorative gift.

To think that many of my works have been made into goods and passed on to and used by many people in this way also makes it a job worth doing.

Fans and hand towels used as souvenirs

Has my calligraphy become part of Waseda culture?

I have been told that my former boss, the late Mr. S, said "Watanabe's calligraphy has already become part of Waseda culture." Those words weren't said to me directly, but being words that weren't said out of compliment, they moved me greatly.

The scenery of my office that, at the time of my starting work, had a single, oversized word processor, transformed into one where everyone has their own computer in no time. Therefore, I thought that handwritten calligraphy work would decrease.

However, along with the vitalization of university business and research activities through the spread of computers and the radical reforms of the President Takayasu Okajima era, my workload also increased.

There has never been a year gone by without a signboard etc. containing my writing set up around campus, and I think it has completely blended into the Waseda landscape.

When looking at that situation, these days I recall Mr. S's tough yet charming face and ponder about whether I should sincerely accept Mr. S's words.

Taigo (real name Hiroyuki) Watanabe
Waseda University commissioned calligrapher, Developing Calligraphy Research Company representative

【Brief History】
1951 Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture (professes to have come from Shimane Prefecture as he moved there soon after being born).
1974 Moved to Tokyo with an aim to be a calligrapher and became an apprentice of Gasei Komai.
1983 Wins the Mainichi Calligraphy exhibition "Mainichi Prize". Afterwards becomes a freelancer and continues today to present his major works at individual exhibitions.

【Writing History】
=Individual Exhibitions=
1973
Matsue, Shimane Prefecture: Prefectural Hall
1988
Ginza, Tokyo: Kanematsu Gallery
1990
In front of Matsue Station, Shimane Prefecture: Pino
1993
Ageo, Saitama Prefecture: Civic Gallery
1997
Ginza, Tokyo: Kyukyodo 4th floor gallery
1999
Waseda University Central Library
Prefectural Museum
Public Hall, Shimane Prefecture
2000
Ginza, Tokyo: Kyukyodo 3rd floor gallery
2002
Waseda, Tokyo: Rihga Royal Hotel Tokyo
Shirokanedai, Tokyo: Gallery Hannabi
2006
Matsue, Shimane Prefecture: Shimane Art Museum gallery
2009
Tokyu Department Store, Shibuya Flagship Store 8th floor art gallery, Tokyo
2011
Ginza, Tokyo: Kyukyodo 4th floor gallery
2012
Denen Chofu, Tokyo: Private Gallery Oran-j

=Publications=
Nengajo wo Tanoshimu (Enjoying New Year Cards)(Yuzankaku)
Komai Gasei Iboku Hyakusen (100 Selected Works of Gasei Komai)(Tenraishoin)
Daigoro Sensei no Sho no Nengajo (New Year Cards Written by Daigoro)(Tenraishoin)