Photo/IllutrationA calligraphy work by Gaei Hashimura contains quotations from “Macbeth.” (Eri Niiya)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KITA-KYUSHU, Fukuoka Prefecture--With its elevation of handwriting to an art form, Japanese calligraphy makes an appropriate match for William Shakespeare quotations, and the unusual premise for an exhibition to be held in London in June.

In a collaboration of Western and Eastern artistic traditions, a group based in this western city will exhibit its calligraphy works featuring quotations from Shakespeare plays at a gallery just down the road from the original site of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed in the Bard’s lifetime.

“I hope to spread the allure of Japanese calligraphic art to audiences overseas through the prism of Shakespeare’s works,” said Gaei Hashimura, the 73-year-old leader of the group, ahead of the show in the playwright’s homeland.

For about five years, Koso, also known as the Kitakyushu Japanese Calligraphy Association, has been organizing shows themed on classical works, such as “Kojiki” (Records of Ancient Matters) of Japan and “Tangshixuan” (Anthology of Tang Dynasty poetry) of China.

Last year, the group decided to take on Western classics and had a try at Shakespeare’s works, which they exhibited at the Kitakyushu Literature Museum.

The London show came to pass partly through the help of Adam Hailes, a 46-year-old associate professor of British theater with the University of Kitakyushu Faculty of Foreign Studies, who had supervised the works.

Apprentice members of Koso read Shakespeare’s works and selected their favorite passages to render in calligraphic form.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” ("As You Like It"), “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind” ("A Midsummer Night’s Dream")--these and a number of other quotations are presented in the works of calligraphy with a careful combination of bold and stately lines and more delicate strokes.

“Calligraphy is not much different from theater in the sense that the looks of letters are used to render sentiments that are hidden in the language,” Hashimura said.

The works contain both the original English text and their Japanese translations. Some are written in lateral lines, as opposed to traditional vertical writing, and other works are even written diagonally.

“We are doing something adventurous from the viewpoint of calligraphic tradition,” Hashimura said.

“The show is so much like Shakespeare himself, who broke the rules of theater of the time,” Hailes added, referring to the coming exhibition of 50 works by Koso members, ranging between high school age and their 80s.

Hashimura said she feels that fewer and fewer people are interested in Japanese calligraphy with the spread of personal computers.

“I want calligraphy to survive as a form of art, not just as good handwriting,” she said. “Calligraphy allows you to put your emotions on various strokes of your brush. I would be pleased to see it spread across the world.”

“When the Language of Shakespeare Meets the Calligraphy of Japan” will be held June 11-16 at the Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street, London. Visit the gallery website ( for more details.