Human connection through a calligraphy brush


July 5, 2014, published in Ryukyu Shimpo (translated by Iyasu Nagata)


I call it “enpitsu” - from the Chinese characters (kanji) meaning “destined to meet” and “calligraphy brush”. It’s something I do every time I exchange business cards with someone. Before I pass along my card, I flip it over and write my new acquaintance’s name in calligraphy, designed as a work of art.

Exchanging business cards is a common practice in Japan, but I often feel like there’s no meaningful exchange. Sometimes it’s merely the physical transfer of a piece of paper.

Some people don’t have business cards, and that’s perfectly natural. Children and stay-at-home moms usually don’t. You might be surprised how many office workers don’t, either.

When I give out my card, I ask everyone for their full name.

I do it for three reasons. I want to know the kanji for their name. I also want them to experience seeing their name transform into art. The third reason is that I want to leave something behind after I die. That one is rather heavy, I know, and it partly comes from the fact that I have infertility.

In 2002, when I was 18, I was diagnosed with a type of cancer called malignant lymphoma. Stage IV B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, to be exact. The treatment is almost identical to the one for pediatric leukemia, so I experienced vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, and other symptoms. You’ve probably seen the disease portrayed on TV and in movies. My battle with the illness was a lot like those scenes.

After a whole year of chemotherapy, my doctor recommended a bone marrow transplant, as a way to go from remission (which means there are almost no cancer cells) to a complete recovery. After talking it over with my family, we decided that I would receive bone marrow from a donor registry.

Before a bone marrow transplant, the patient undergoes a harsh procedure called pretreatment, which involves a massive dose of chemotherapy and a potentially lethal dose of radiation. Shortly before receiving the pretreatment, I was told I had a 99% chance of losing the ability to have children.

Now, 12 years after the transplant, I continue to live with the knowledge that I can’t expect to have children. At some point, I thought, “Okay… so I can’t pass on my genes… What can I leave behind?” That’s when the idea of art flashed across my mind. You’ve probably heard that old saying: “Art is long, life is short.”

So that's how I got the idea of turning the everyday practice of exchanging business cards into an opportunity to share some of myself through art.

My “enpitsu” calligraphy takes me all around Okinawa, across Japan, and sometimes even overseas, and my live performances can happen unexpectedly. I often don't know, myself, where or when they'll be.

From July 18 to 24, 2014, as a member of the Okinawa Art Group, I will be participating in an exhibit called “Dou (Dynamism) - Emerging Artists of Okinawa” at Sanei Naha Mainplace.

Many people will be meeting each other for the first time, and business cards will be exchanged as usual. Whether by chance or by fate, you've come across this column, so perhaps you'd like to visit the exhibit as well? I'd love to commemorate the occasion by giving you my business card, personalized with your name.