Calligrapher Airi Hara Shapes Kanji into Animals, Roses and Mythic Scenes to Entice Overseas Audience

A work by Airi Hara titled “Tenro wa Hoshi to Tomoni Anata o Michibiku” (The heavenly wolf guides you, together with the star). The shining star in the background is the North Star.

Airi Hara draws her kanji in warping, fluid strokes, breaking the characters out of their molds so that she can piece them into a larger image. She calls such works “shodo art” (calligraphy art), and uses the kanji to convey strength, tenderness and grace to the viewer.

Hara, 29, hit upon this approach to painting in 2017. While giving a calligraphy performance on a street in Singapore, she realized she might interest people overseas in the art through easy-to-understand pictures composed of kanji.

Kanji are shaped into part of the picture.

Since then, she has created works that show athletes, historical figures such as the warlord Oda Nobunaga, scenes from Japanese mythology, and yokai monsters. She shares these works on social media.

One of her pieces, titled “Tenro wa Hoshi to Tomoni Anata o Michibiku” (The heavenly wolf guides you, together with the star), depicts a white wolf from Japanese mythology.

The body of the wolf bears characters that read “Mamori akatsuki e michibiki tamae” (Please protect and guide unto the dawn). The characters embody the divine, heroic wolf through both meaning and form.

An owl drawn by Hara that is meant to bring good fortune

Another work, titled “Fuku o Yobu Fukuro” (The owl of good fortune), depicts an owl with its wings spread wide. The wings comprise 52 words and phrases, including “kizuna” (bond), “yume” (dream) and “nanakorobi yaoki” (never give up).

Looking closely, one also sees the English phrase “One for all, all for one” on the chest. Part of the joy of viewing such works comes from discovering what words are used where.

After deciding on a theme or motif for each piece, Hara draws a simple sketch to have a clear idea about the characters she will use and how she will position them. Then she starts to paint, moving her brush faster then slower, keeping on till she has finished the piece in one sitting.

“I sometimes write characters larger or reshape them drastically from their normal form,” she said.

She suggests mood not only through heavy and light brushstrokes, but also through blurs and traces of the brush, she added.

One of a series of works based on “Alice in Wonderland”

Some of her works center on English words and phrases. Her series of works based on “Alice in Wonderland” consists of four canvases. One includes the word “courage.” The seven letters are formed by Alice’s arms and dress. Next to her is a large kanji that also means courage.

Hara hopes her works will drive interest abroad in calligraphy and Japanese.

“With the spread of personal computers and smartphones, people have fewer chances to write things by hand. That’s why I want to get people to feel the power of handwritten words,” Hara said.

‘Yomiuri’ as a rose

Anyone can try shodo art if they have a brush, Hara says.

“In the beginning, it is a good idea to sketch the outline of what you want to draw, and then fill it with kanji characters that have few strokes, or with hiragana characters,” Hara said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hara reworks the kanji for “Yomiuri” into roses.

She recommends using such words and phrases as “arigato” and “mubyo sokusai” (sound health) to make gifts for friends and family.

Hara drew roses using the two kanji characters for “Yomiuri,” the name of the newspaper that also runs The Japan News. She picked up a brush and drew out the two flowers in no time.

“You could use a brush pen, and just start by enjoying yourself,” Hara said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Airi Hara

Airi Hara, calligrapher

Hara was born in 1993. Her hometown is in Fukuoka Prefecture. She began learning calligraphy at the age of 2 and majored in the form at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka. After working at a local bank, she began her career as a calligrapher. She started creating works of calligraphy art around 2017. She is set to hold a solo exhibition in Paris in October and in Dubai in May. A collection of works by Hara, titled “Shodo Artist Hara Airi: Ai” (Calligraphy artist Airi Hara: Love) and published by Kadokawa Corp., is now on sale.