Kumiko Tamashiro teaches free on base Calligraphy Class

Kumiko Tamashiro teaches free on base Calligraphy Class

by Lance Cpl. Tayler Schwamb
U.S. Marine Corps

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- The silence was deafening as members of the military community intently focused on painting thin elegant black lines with their calligraphy brushes. Library technician Kumiko Tamashiko lightly stepped around the newspaper and rice-paper clad table from student to student, the clicking of her heels echoing in the room.

Tamashiko held her first calligraphy class with members of the military community at the library Jan. 8 aboard Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. Tamashiko began to study the art of calligraphy at 10 years old, attending calligraphy class on the second floor of her neighbor’s house after school. Many children, like Tamashiko, practice calligraphy to celebrate Japanese traditions. Japanese calligraphy, known as Shodo, is a deeply rooted artistic form of writing that many men and women practice.

The shape, size and type of hair in the brush as well as the pressure, inclination and direction all effect the boldness and smoothness of the strokes. As Tamashiko taught the Marines how to write in the three Japanese languages hiragana, katakana, and kanji she stressed the importance of taking your time. Japanese calligraphers believe that the speed, acceleration and deceleration of the writer’s moves and turns give spirit and intention to the individual characters.

Each of the Marines spent the first half of the class practicing holding the brushes vertically between their thumb and middle finger. At first, the Marine’s calloused hands gripped the paint brush too hard, causing their lines to be jerky and jagged. Tamashiko would guide their brushes until their grip relaxed. As she guided their hands, Tamashiko also spent time explaining the order of the strokes for each character.

According to Lance Cpl. Joel Bolivar, a student in the class, unit deployment program Marines aboard Camp Hansen actively search for ways to immerse themselves in the local culture during their short stay.

The Camp Hansen Library is a popular destination after work for many Marines who fall under the unit deployment program or are stationed in Okinawa. While Marines are temporarily deployed to the Asia-Pacific region they look to experience the different cultures overseas. Their efforts include trying various types of Asian cuisine, learning the language or attending library classes like calligraphy.

“I like things that give you a different outlook,” said Bolivar, an infantry rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, which is currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program. “For me, English was my third language, so to come to a class like this and to learn from someone from another culture and to learn their language is very important to me. Tamashiko’s first class went well. I’m so glad I came and I hope I can come again.”

Tamashiko’s first calligraphy class allowed members of the military community to immerse themselves in the popular and relaxing traditions of the Japanese culture, bridging the gap between the local and military community.

“Marines are so polite and eager to learn. I love teaching them what I know,” said Tamashiro.

In turn, the Marines from around the world teach Tamashiko more about the American culture. Throughout Tamashiko’s year of working at Camp Hansen, she has made many friends, going to the beaches, eating out and sharing laughs with Marines stationed and deployed on Okinawa.

After the success of her first calligraphy class, Tamashiko looks forward to working with the Marines to exchange more of the culture through classes at the Camp Hansen Library.

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