How Japanese woman with Down Syndrome stuns the world with her calligraphy writing
Shoko Kanazawa is now a top calligrapher in Japan, but she was born with Down Syndrome. How did the young girl, who was told by her elementary school teacher to transfer to another school, grow up to become a confident and celebrated artist who brings messages of joy to light up the world?
When Shoko's mother, Yasuko, gave birth to her first child at the age of 42 in 1985, her happiness turned to despair when she was told that the baby was born with Down Syndrome. Nevertheless, her husband, Hiroshi, showered the baby with love. Yasuko was also touched when the smiling baby reached out to wipe away her tears when she was breastfeeding. She would later say that Shoko gave her the strength to live.
Yasuko had studied traditional calligraphy, the stylish writing using a brush. She decided to open a class at home for children to learn calligraphy and to give Shoko a chance to make friends. Unexpectedly, five-year-old Shoko was the only one of the four children in class who was able to hold the brush correctly.
Later, Shoko started attending elementary school and was happy. But, when she reached fourth grade, her teacher said that she needed to transfer to "a school with special classes for the handicapped." The young girl could not understand why she couldn't attend the same school and see her friends anymore. To help her heartbroken daughter, Yasuko asked Shoko to copy the Heart Sutra over and over again. The Heart Sutra contains the essence of Buddhist teachings in 276 complex characters. It was difficult for any 10-year-old child to copy, not to mention one with Down Syndrome, but Shoko wrote day and night.
The art of traditional calligraphy, originated from ancient China, is often judged by the strength and composition expressing the innate character and steady focus of the writer. When Yasuko's own teacher, a calligraphy master, saw Shoko's work, he was stunned by the high level that the young girl had attained, and he decided to teach Shoko himself.
In 2001, Shoko won top prize at a nationwide student calligraphy exhibit. She was 16. Unfortunately, her father already passed away due to a stroke. When he was alive, he often encouraged his beloved daughter and promised her a solo exhibition when she reached 20. The promise was realized when Shoko's mother organized an exhibit in 2005 at an art gallery, and the 20-year-old artist rose in fame when visitors came in droves and were touched by her inspiring story and work.
Shoko is now an acclaimed calligrapher whose work is recognized around the world. In 2015, she exhibited her work in New York City and Paris. She also spoke at the United Nations event commemorating World Down Syndrome Day, designated on March 21 every year, to bring a message of hope and to thank her mother for teaching her calligraphy.
She recently held an exhibit in Singapore in October this year. Next, she will be in Dubai in April and St. Petersburg in May 2017. In the following video, you can see her demonstrating her calligraphy in Singapore. She wrote the word 光, which means light, and then 德, which means virtue.
This video praises the boldness of Shoko's calligraphy style:
Although Shoko's life in overcoming obstacles and mastering calligraphy has been inspirational to everyone, her mother is not surprised. She knew Shoko possessed a natural talent and was full of heart early on. In recounting her own experience with baby Shoko, she said with a smile, “I was touched by Shoko's will to live, her kindness, and her wisdom. She was the one who gave me the strength to live.”
Just like the word 翔 in Shoko's Japanese name, 金澤翔子, she will continue to soar in her journey to shine a path of hope and joy to the world.
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