Memory of Ink

essay, Jun. 2019


A notebook containing lots of written formulas. Flip cards of English vocabulary words. Textbooks I used when I was in high school. Pieces of paper on which the results of the practice exams are written.

I tied these up with a plastic string and piled up one after another.

My room in my parent’s house now turned into a mere storage room.

“If I live up to 90, now it’s just passed a third. Maybe it’s a good time to get my hands on it.”

I murmured in my mind and started to throw away old unnecessary things for simple living.

Looking at the stack of textbooks and handouts, I only remember my bitter high school days:

The chemistry formulas: I couldn’t memorize them even though I wrote them again and again till the end of the notebook.

A group journal. I wrote it to share my stories of love, club activities, fashion, etc. with friends of mine. However, I cared too much about what they thought of me and could never write my true feelings.

A sheet of music which I squeezed into a ball. I never played well, though I practiced hard.

I put all of them in the garbage as blandly as possible, not to be sentimental.

I was cleaning up my room at a quick pace, but I stopped my hand when I saw a bunch of yellowish semi-transparent paper.

It was Japanese paper on which I practiced calligraphy. I wrote many idioms with difficult kanji (Chinese characters) (1).

In Japan, every elementary school kid learns calligraphy in Japanese class. There are also calligraphy lessons that are popular from young to old.

Traditionally, people in Japan all wrote with Chinese ink and Japanese paper. Nowadays, some families do calligraphy on New Years holidays to write a New Year’s resolution.

When I looked through this bunch of paper, I felt the unique smell of ink and the dry smell of Japanese paper. It’s a bitter but fresh scent that sticks in my mind, though not strong.

This smell immediately reminds me of the time when I sat and looked down at the plain white Japanese paper.

I was nervous when I wrote down the first stroke. For the next strokes, I put down the brush carefully not to make a mistake. I concentrated all of the nerves of my body to the tip of the brush to make the overall balance of kanji.

When I finished, I finally felt relieved and took a long breath.

I imitated a kanji on the textbook and wrote the same kanji again and again. Gradually, my awkward calligraphy became beautiful, and finally, I could write in my own style. That was the goal of the calligraphy.

As I turned over each Japanese paper and saw the balance of letters and how much the ink bled, I could see, “oh, I was so concentrating on writing this letter” or “I traced this letter because the ink wasn’t enough…even though it was not the right thing to do,” etc.

It’s as if my past-self appears in the calligraphy.

When I became an adult and didn’t do calligraphy anymore, the act of writing letters itself seems a “luxury”; it’s the time that I focus on to the brush and paper, only to write my best letter. I straighten my back, breathe deeply and forget about everything except the letter in front of me. It’s as if I did a meditation.

It took a whole day to clean up my room. Now, my whole life until now fit into two boxes. I was a bit disappointed that my life was so compact, but at the same time, I was also surprised that I valued many things that were actually unnecessary to me (2).

I was considering for some time and put the yellowish Japanese paper, which scattered on the floor, in the trash bag too. Surely, I can start calligraphy again and write letters in my current style, or more to say, the letters of what I am now.

1. Kanji, or Chinese characters are literally from China. In old days, Japanese created their own characters, Hiragana and Katakana from Kanji. From then, we use these three types of characters to write.

2. There is a Japanese cultural philosophy that emphasizes minimalism. The Japanese word for this concept is “Danshari,” which means to avoid (buying) unnecessary things, while making an effort to throw out unnecessary possessions, and resisting temptation to material objects. Today, this minimalistic idea has spread to the world, for example, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”, or “Konmari Method”, on Netflix.

written by


Studied psychology at college, then worked as an advertisement director. Now work at public relations in art industry. Lead a simple life in the east side of Tokyo, and often go back to my parents house surrounded by rich nature.

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