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“Examples of the earliest beginnings of expressive writing go back as far as Egyptian hieroglyphic writings found on animal bones, Hindustan writings found in India, Sumerian inscriptions and Chinese characters found on tortoise shell. Of these, Chinese characters alone remain today in their original form. What Japanese calligraphers have tried to do is to use the Chinese characters as a basis for linking the 4,000-year history of writing known as ‘shodo’ (the art of calligraphy) with the present, and in so doing create a meaningful form of expressionistic art that will continue into the future.”

Shisen Fukasawa proudly shows her calligraphy award.

Shisen Fukasawa draws upon the words and thoughts of her teacher in discussing the mind and the brush. She added: ” ‘Sho’ has to be beautiful to the beholder and must be full of character. The shape and form of sho is structured by the mind, and at the same time the mind is expressed by the shape and form of sho. . . . If the mind is straight, the brush will write correctly.”

Shisen is better known in Tokyo international circles as Teruko Fukasawa, manager of the Tokyo Clinic Dental Office. Hers is the quiet, understanding voice on the telephone, and the calm, reassuring presence in the reception room. Hers is the bandbox appearance that could be an advertisement for good dental hygiene and health. She has known some patients for 45 years, and now receives some second-generation patients returned as adults to Tokyo. Interestingly, she took up calligraphy directly as a result of her association with Dr. John Besford, who opened his dental practice in Tokyo soon after the end of the war.

Fukasawa was born in Manchuria, brought up in Tokyo and educated at the Friends Quaker School. She originally intended to be a dressmaker but instead filled a position offered by Besford.

She said: “For the first year or two, I was just trying to understand everything, from English to dentistry. We worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without a lunch break. Dr. Besford was very strict, and everything had to be perfect. Sometimes I wanted to quit, and I think it was because I didn’t understand very much and so much passed me by that I didn’t. It was very good training for me, and I became confident. Anyway, somehow I felt I really had to work for Dr. Besford.”

At the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games, Besford, who had been an Olympic swimmer before the war, served as a liaison officer with the British team in Japan. He arranged for Fukasawa to be an interpreter in the British headquarters. The British team that came eight years later to the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo remembered Fukasawa, and asked if she could go there to help. She said: “I had one month off, and was given entry as a British official to the Olympic village. I was on the British team, and at the opening ceremony I wore a British uniform and marched at the head of the team carrying the British flag. I was very famous! I had no need to show my identity card to get into the village. We were all very, very good friends.”

Her wholeheartedness at the Sapporo Winter Games sparked Fukasawa’s entry into the world of calligraphy. “Some cultural programs were arranged for the international athletes,” Fukasawa said. “Some of the British team wanted to go to calligraphy, and I went with them. I liked it.” She met in the class someone who happened to live in her Tokyo neighborhood, and whose mother was teaching calligraphy in her home. Fukasawa decided to join her class.

She was an apt student, whose teacher later gave her the name Shisen. After 10 years of application, she had received her highest degree. Ten years after that, she suffered the misfortune of slipping in the snow and breaking a bone in her back. “I could no longer bend over paper spread on the floor,” she said. “It was hard to use a big brush, and I couldn’t apply pressure.” Her teacher in suggesting a solution also provided Fukasawa with a specialization: the calligraphic writing not of large, bold Chinese characters but of small, delicate kana script, produced by using small brushes made of soft cat’s hair.

Her work is meticulous and elegant, often the writing of poetry on special, expensive, hard-to-find Chinese paper. To her astonishment, Fukasawa won a special prize that qualifies her to judge some grades of calligraphy. She teaches and exhibits, and sometimes with her group goes to China for joint exhibitions. She has also begun lessons in the way of tea, traveling to a special class once a month in Mishima. In tea as well as in calligraphy, Fukasawa looks for the underlying spirit that “nurtures the characteristics of mental honesty and openness” in their practitioners.