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Meeting Seal Engravers and Zen Teachers in Japan – exploring Tenkoku

In December 2022 and January 2023 Blair enjoyed a fascinating visit to Japan as part of a project kindly funded by the GB Sasakawa Foundation. He was fortunate to be able to meet Tenkoku Seal Engraving as well as as Zen masters and teachers and learn from them the history, techniques, design styles and use of 印 stamps in Zen and Japanese arts and culture.

Blair met with respected Tenkoku 篆刻 teachers at classes in central Tokyo and Shinjuku areas, and visited Zen temples and monks around Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as learned from experienced trainees working with these masters. He was able to investigate the connections between aesthetic, mindful and creative practices in zen meditation and tenkoku stamp

He discovered just how much deep research and practice is needed to create ‘inkan’ stamps, and how tenkoku stamps are considered art forms in their own right, not simply a ‘signature’ for a document or artwork – as well as very important and necessary instruments within zen documents which are used in particular combinations.

Exploring the materials used in Tenkoku – there are so many tools and helpful devices through the process – and also the traditional techniques and teaching methods, Blair soon worked on his own stamp designs and carving and was given excellent instruction along the way.

Finding out more about how to use the old stamp making and kanji character dictionaries and understand about the qualities and types of pyrophyllite stone stamps and inde red inks, helped him immensely. He was also surprised to be given access to zen related, stamped calligraphy artworks and documents which he could study and copy.

Blair really appreciated being able to visit Japan, luckily the timing for the trip was ideal after the loosening of pandemic restrictions. It was a fabulously inspiring and fun visit and he was also able to have time to hop on the shinkansen trains and visit some areas outside Tokyo and Kyoto, walking on the Pacific coast and enjoying relaxing onsen hot springs. He is very thankful for all the support and encouragement he received in Japan, from many individuals as well as teachers and monks.

From February to the end of March 2023 we are running a series of free workshops in the Glasgow area exploring Tenkoku and the themes written about above. We will be working with KSD Tibetan Centre, Glasgow Zen Group, and North United Communities to deliver these workshops:

25th February
Kagyu Samye Dzong (adults workshop)

2nd March
Wellbeing Group, Ruchill Pavilion (adults workshop)

7th March
Group for young people, Maryhill Hub (Primary school ages)

24th March
Group for young people, Maryhill Hub (Secondary school ages)

Join us to carve a Japanese stamp making your very own stamp impression with the traditional materials, and learn about the history and stages in the Tenkoku process.

The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation

Kindly supported by The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation