Description of Works

About this Exhibit

The Calligraphy of Now – Works of Arai Kōfū (Feb 22 – April 19)

Concurrent Exhibit – 36th Annual Naritasan National Calligraphy Competition Exhibit (April 1 – April 19)


This exhibit will feature the works of kanji calligrapher, ARAI Kōfū. His study of the classics under NISHIKAWA Yasushi formed the foundation for his beautiful pieces, which exquisitely express the ancient classical scripts in a modern way. The pieces in this collection focus on kanji, those mainly done in the tensho and reisho scripts. Both the plum and cherry blossoms will be in bloom throughout the duration of the exhibit. The museum is situated in the middle of a Japanese garden, behind the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple main building, allowing you to experience the seasons. Towards the end of this exhibit we will also be showing pieces from the Annual Naritasan National Calligraphy Competition (April 1-19). We look forward to your visit.


What are ancient characters?

Kanji, or Chinese characters, are some of the oldest characters in the world. Here, we will explore the origins of those characters. Carvings on tortoise shells, cattle bones and bronze vessels from the Shang dynasty (1600B.C.E.~) are called kinbun. These were the origins of shokeimoji, or pictographic kanji. They were also an important tool for communicating with the gods, and originated over 3000 years ago. These characters have a primitive, simplistic yet spiritual appeal to them, and we hope that you can appreciate the world of ancient characters through this exhibit.



  1. Mu-i

Age 78 (2015)

The meaning of the words mu-i is “to do nothing”. This is taken from the words of Lao Tzu, “I do nothing and yet nothing is left undone.” This is a central concept of Taoism as well as the basis of Lao Tzu’s famous book, the Tao Te Ching.


  1. Ichi-ryō Ichi-da

Age 78 (2015)

The words here mean, “Sometimes it is a dragon soaring through the sky, sometimes a snake slithering on the ground, change and be flexible for each moment in harmony.” These are the words of famous ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuang Zhou, who lived around the 4th century BC.


  1. Hōitsu

Age 77 (2014)

The meaning here is the unity of body and mind.

The left side of the first character 抱 symbolizes the five fingers on the hand, while the right side is in the shape of a baby. The character itself is the symbol of a person holding out their arm to cradle a baby, eventually giving way to the meaning “to embrace” or “to hold” for the kanji character.


  1. Awaki Mizuno Gotoshi

Age 77 (2014)

These characters are taken from the words of ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuang Zhou, who compared being in a relationship with your ideal partner to intermixing, flowing water. It’s thought that the concept of equality is also included here.

水 is water, referring literally to flowing water.

淡 is the combination of the characters for flowing water, and burning flame. It refers to a shimmer of hot air that flickers above a body of water, almost like a flame. This shimmer of hot air is very faint, and so the meaning of the character came to be “pale” or “fleeting”.


  1. Enmoku

Age 77 (2014)

The characters for enmoku refer to a deep silence.


  1. Dai-myō

Age 79 (2016)

The character for myō is 妙. The left side of the character is in the shape of a woman with one knee on the ground, with one hand over the other. The right side of the character is in the shape of small fish, meaning “few” or “just a little”. The two characters combined together make the character 妙 which refers to a woman who is deeply refined. In addition, it also came to mean “beautiful” or “curious and immeasurable”. The character 大 or dai means “big”, and is used to add emphasis to the character for myō.


  1. Shikyō Ryōshi

Age 35 (1972), Kenshin Shodō Exhibition – Nishikawa Shundō Award

This piece was made when ARAI Kōfū was 35 years old. It was the first time he achieved success as a calligrapher, receiving his first award. It’s characteristic for the contrast between the thick and thick strokes, both vertically and horizontally. The movement visible on the left side of the piece also leaves an impression.


  1. Kyūkokushihō

Age 35 (1972), Nitten – Special Selection

九 is the character for nine, while 穀 is the character for grain. The idea of nine types of grain symbolizes abundancy, bountifulness. The character for nine comes from the image of a person bending their elbows. “To bend” is “to come to an end.” 9 is the end of the single-digit numbers.


  1. Nettetsu

Age 41 (1978), Nitten – Special Selection

Netsutetsu refers to iron that melts at a high temperature. The marks on the bottom of the character for netsu 熱 represent fire. They also mean “to be absorbed in something”. With this piece Arai was expressing his passion towards shodō. He uses thick horizontal lines, giving an impression of being heavy-bottomed.


  1. Yūgyo Suichō

Age 53 (1990), Kenshin Shodō Exhibition

The characters written here mean, “When a master koto player plays the koto, even the fish can’t help but be captivated.” The middle character is the character for fish. The right part of the character on the furthest right character represents a person.


  1. Mugen

Age 60 (1997), Exhibition of 20 Modern Calligraphers

The characters here mean “dream” and “illusion”. The overall meaning of the piece is that of fleetingness.
The kanji for maboroshi, or “illusion”, comes from the image of dyed thread hung to dry on a tree branch. The meaning of “change” and “illusion” comes from the dyed thread changing color as it dries. The balance of the open space in this character is a point of beauty in this piece.


  1. Unryō Fūko

Age 57 (1994), Nitten – Member’s Award

Literally, “Cloud dragon, wind tiger”, but the meaning of this piece is “birds of a feather flock together.” It’s believed that a dragon will appear with clouds, and a tiger will come together with the wind. The characters for “tiger” and “dragon” come from the physical shape of the animals.


  1. Seitōryō

Age 63 (2000), Nitten – Minister of Education Award

The characters here refer to a pile of a variety of grains. Grains are a metaphor for abundance and affluence.


  1. Jisaku no Kotoba

Age 68 (2005), Exhibition of 20 Modern Calligraphers

Pieces of calligraphy from the Warring States period, or Sengoku period, allow us to hear the echoes of ancient masters. This is a modern calligraphy piece which expresses Arai’s life’s work of the research of ancient calligraphic works.


  1. Naokikoto Kaminogotoshi

Age 68 (2005), Nitten

The straight strokes of the characters resemble the shape and form of hair.


  1. Tōka Seisei

Age 80 (2017)

This is one piece from the solo exhibit that Arai held when he was 80 years old. This is the first piece that he produced after deciding on the theme of the exhibition. Literally, the characters here are “winter, summer, green, green”. These words represent constancy, that which is unchanging. Evergreen trees like the pine don’t change color regardless if it’s winter or summer, which is the inspiration for this piece. Done at 80 years old, this piece has become one of his representative works.


  1. Daidōbuki

Age 73 (2010), Nihon no Shoten

The words here mean, “The path taken by wise men is universal.” The character for dai, which means big, comes from a person with their arms and legs spread out.


  1. Former Main Temple Building – Yakushidō Stele

Age 78 (2015)

The Yakushidō building, which used to be the former main temple building, was moved to the outside of Naritasan and is presently situated on the omotesandō, the main path to the temple. The calligraphy on the stone stele outside of the entrance was also done by Arai. First generation kabuki actor during the Edo period, ICHIKAWA Danjūrō, prayed for a child here. His prayers were answered, and this building became famous as the roots of the kabuki organization, Naritaya.


  1. Lao Tzu – On the Dao

Age 75 (2012)

These are the words at the beginning of famous ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu’s book. Lao Tzu often uses the word 道, (dao in Chinese, roughly translated as path in English), but he means it in a very specific way and this is his explanation of it. This piece is both the explanation of the dao, as well as an introduction to Lao Tzu’s philosophy.
This piece is written in shōten script, which is a type of tensho script. The birth of the tensho script occurred under the first Emperor who unified China, Qin Shi Huang. It was the first time that the script was unified as well; the various complex characters that that had been used up until that point were organized and simplified. The modern inshō script is also based on this script.

The strokes are compact and blunt.


  1. Lao Tzu Yōtoku – Nursing Virtue

Age 75 (2012)

This piece is reminiscent of the classical pieces of the Northern Wei dynasty. A group of the classical kaisho script, which is representative of the Northern Wei dynasty period, has a nostalgic beauty to it. These are characters that were carved into the walls of cliffs and caves. They had a sense of simplicity and rough strength about them, which was a great contrast to the characters that came after during the Tang dynasty period.

The dao (道), which is the nurturing of all things, and 徳 (toku), or virtue, which is the cultivation of all things, are two themes that Lao Tzu believed were the basis for everything. The words written here are his words.


  1. Lao Tzu – Chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching

Age 80 (2017)

“Following the dao doesn’t mean doing anything specifi, but there is nothing that can’t be accomplished by following the dao.”  – The words of ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu.


  1. Genmei

Age 73 (2010), Kisui Shoten

The characters here mean “strict and just”.


  1. Lao Tzu – The Function of Skill

Age 75 (2012)

“Even if you do good deeds, don’t show them off. Not leaving a trace of your actions is the natural way of life.” These are also the words of Lao Tzu. This piece is particularly notable for the shōten script in which it was written, with all the characters in perfect balance and harmony.


  1. Lao Tzu – Moderation of Desire

Age 75 (2012)

This piece reads, “When the dao prevails, war horses are retired for use on farms and fields. When the dao is disregarded, war horses breed and multiply to be used in battle.” Lao Tzu’s idea of the dao is the state of emptiness, no form. It is something that has been in existence before the appearance of mankind, and therefore the origin of everything, like an eternal and unchanging state of mind. Arai has made other pieces with these words as well, and has a high regard for the ideal of peace.




“10-minute SHODŌ”


We are now offering a shodō experience service for our visitors! Just as the name suggests, this is a 10-minute experience, where you can try your hand at shodō for 500 yen.
You can also customize the experience to create your own unique piece, utilizing the various shodō utensils we have on hand. There are scrolls, frames, and various options to choose from!

We also have spots where you can take photos with your completed pieces as well.

By writing your own calligraphy, you can better understand the pieces displayed in the museum.

You can take part in 10-minute SHODŌ by itself as well, without entering the museum. We hope you’ll give it a try!

※Registration is open until 3:30pm.




Exhibitions planned for Reiwa Year 2 (2020)

We have 7 exhibitions planned for this year. The first half of the exhibitions will contain mostly pieces owned by Naritasan Shinshōji Temple and Naritasan Reikōkan Museum.

From April 25th, we’ll have “The Sho and Art of Naritaya’s ICHIKAWA Danjūrō” exhibit, which will showcase ema and nishiki-e, as well as historical pieces related to Naritasan. At the same time, we will also be exhibiting “Calligraphy of the 1960’s – The Olympics”, which, as the name suggests, will focus on famous pieces related to the 1964 Olympics.

From June 27th, we will have the “Calligraphy of Now – Celebrating the 2020 Olympics” exhibit. This will feature modern pieces from the Heisei and current Reiwa period. There will be many extravagant and bold impact pieces – this is an exhibit shodō fans won’t want to miss.

From September 5th, we’ll have an exhibit that focuses mainly on the cultural assets of Naritasan’s collection. While the June exhibit will feature modern pieces, the September exhibit will be the complete opposite, featuring pieces mostly from the Edo period. The pieces here will be from a time of prosperity for Naritasan, filled with magnificent works of art.

The last half of the exhibitions will include pieces of high merit from renowned calligraphers of the modern period. There will be delicate works as well as bold and dynamic pieces, showing the many colors and possibilities of the world of shodō.

If you have the chance, take advantage of our 10-minute SHODŌ experience and try shodō for yourself!