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絆 KIZUNA, the Ties That Bind Us

Musings from Diane Durston, Curator Emerita

Kizuna 絆 (the bonds that connect us) by Kihachiro Nishiura

In the summer of 2015, I had the honor of curating an exhibition of ceramic work in the Garden Pavilion by artisans from Mashiko, where potters’ studios, kilns, as well as many priceless works were destroyed in the earthquake of 2011. Thirteen Mashiko potters, including the grandson of Living National Treasure Tatsuzo Shimaoka, struggled to rebuild their lives after this devastating natural disaster. We called the exhibition KIZUNA: The Rebirth of Mashiko Ceramics, a title that referred to the realization that it is kizuna () the “bonds between people” that enabled them to carry on -friendship, empathy, and respect. The kilns of Mashiko are firing again today; the potters worked together to rebuild them so that no one was left behind.

This spring Portland Japanese Garden had hoped to bring Shoko Kanazawa to Portland to demonstrate her mastery of the art of calligraphy. The corona virus has made such a trip impossible this year, but we can still celebrate the beauty and significance of calligraphy with a little help from our friend Kihachiro Nishiura, gallery owner, ikebana artist, and calligraphy teacher, whose “kizuna” character appears with this article. Friends of the Garden may remember Nishiura-san from one of the workshops he has done at the Garden in the past.

There are many styles of writing in the Japanese tradition. Kizuna is written here in the gyosho, or semi-cursive style that eloquently conveys the spirit of this word, which was the 2011 Kanji of the Year in Japan, when the whole country was reeling from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Each year a Kyoto-based calligraphy foundation selects a single character that best represents the breadth of all that happens over a 12-month period.

Perhaps 2020 is another of those years to remind ourselves of the spirit of kizuna—the bonds that tie us together—especially in troubled times. As we watch our friends in Italy singing to each other from their balconies, it is important to remember that every nurse and doctor and orderly and food provider in our community needs our help to get through this. Just as we need them.


Diane is the author of Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Lifea collection of quiet meditations on life lived simply and with intention, and three books on Kyoto (all available online).


Copyright: © 2020

Special thanks to Kihachiro Nishiura for generously donating the calligraphy of kizuna to accompany this article during this time of Garden closure. Learn more about him and his cultural classes at

Photo by Mary Snow


Photo by Justin Leverett