Before leaving Haneda Airport to come back to Hokkaido I had a chance to visit their small “Discovery Museum” which currently has an exhibition of tea bowls from the Hosokawa Family collection. This is the same Hosokawa family as the former prime minister, and indeed two of his bowls were on display. Apparently after resigning as PM he spent the next ten years in the mountains, making pottery. I can’t help wishing that someone like that had indeed won the election for Tokyo governor.
But what I wanted to mention here came up almost by accident, when the description of one of the bowls described it as being ranked 真 (shin) among the three-fold ranking of 真行草 (shin-gyou-sou). These terms also appear in the Kyudo Kyohon in the section on the fundamental bodily form (English pg. 29, Japanese pg. 21), and to me that passage has always been rather opaque. What are they talking about? Shin (truth) and gyou (action; movement) made some sense but sou is literally “grass.” It seemed like some explanation was missing.
So the reference above to the tea bowl finally prompted me to look closer. It turns out that the three-fold categorization comes from the world of Chinese calligraphy, which should have rung a bell since I did briefly study that in Beijing. Shin refers to the fundamental or standard form, while gyou refers to the “running” form, which in English would be called “cursive,” while sou does indeed refer to the “grass” style, which is the most free yet most abstract, but most difficult to read. Japanese seem to appreciate this style very much in artistic calligraphy, where the characters are written as if in a state of mushin.
So here I think the passage in the Kyudo Kyohon starts to make sense. You begin with the fundamental or standard form as a foundation, then in time it becomes more natural and free-flowing, until in its full development it becomes entirely natural and free. It reminds me of something Usami-sensei said at Nagoya last year, that we should practice taihai until it is no longer something we have to think about and perform, but rather the way we move naturally, without consciously trying to do so.
So now I feel like I have a slightly better sense of what is meant, even if perhaps I’m still missing some of it. The Kyohon references some classic Chinese texts that I haven’t seen.
As for the tea bowls, if you’re going through Haneda, go have a look. The museum is quite small and on the side of the airport where ANA flights arrive and depart, outside the security gates (the second page of the PDF pamphlet on the page linked above has a map). Entrance is free and it wasn’t so popular when we were there, so it’s a chance to see some of these bowls up close, even if they are behind glass. Also the ANA side of Haneda has the best restaurants, so it’s a good place to have a meal/snack. Far better than after you go through security.
Also there’s a little more on the calligraphic styles, including examples, here.