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Japanese artist specializes in Arabic calligraphy
TOKYO (Reuters) -- Kouichi Honda's devotion to Arabic calligraphy began almost 30 years ago, when he worked in Saudi Arabia as an interpreter.
Now he's an internationally recognized Arabic calligraphy artist, plus the driving force behind its growing popularity in Japan.
His calligraphy creations are regularly exhibited in Japan, and he has a growing group of students.
Honda's work is often set on vivid backgrounds, unlike classical Japanese calligraphy which is written on a plain or pastel background. Honda's repertoire also includes unusually large creations.
Honda studied Arabic at college, but it was not until the late 1960s -- when he got a job in Saudi Arabia as an interpreter for a Japanese firm making maps for the kingdom's Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources -- that he discovered the world of calligraphy.
Once back in Japan, he continued to practice what he learned from the calligrapher accompanying a map-making expedition, whose job was to write down the names of sand dunes and dry river beds on the map.
His own style
Gradually, Honda mastered the various types of script and has even gone on to win calligraphy awards in contests held in the Middle East. He is now accomplished enough to have started developing a signature style of his own.
"I think of the background, the color scheme and also the design of my pieces based on my personal interpretation of the words of the Koran that I am using," said Honda.
"People look at my work and say that it is different from that of Middle Eastern calligraphers and that it has a Japanese touch to it," he said.
The Japanese language, like Arabic, has a calligraphy tradition, and people are schooled in writing techniques from an early age.
"I think that the Japanese are able to appreciate Arabic calligraphy better than people of other countries because Japan itself has a long history of calligraphy," Honda said.
Traditional Chinese and Japanese calligraphers use brushes. But Arabic calligraphers use reed or bamboo pens to inscribe the graceful Arabic alphabet. Most of these are similar to quill pens and are usually made by the calligrapher themselves.
Arabic calligraphy catches on
Honda's 30-year infatuation with Arabic calligraphy has slowly begun to make an impression in Japan, and dozens of people sign up for his classes.
"There are many different styles, many more than Japanese calligraphy, and I find that the most interesting," said Motoo Saito, who has been taking lessons for about six months.
"I used to work in a bank, and documents written in Arabic used to be sent to us," said student Kimiko Akaiwa. "I thought that I would like to some day learn the beautiful script, and I started taking lessons five years ago."
Adept as they may be at the art of Arabic calligraphy, many of Honda's students don't speak a word of the language -- but no matter: Beauty is beauty, regardless of language.
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