As Etegami classes and sketch excursions have become pre-pandemic memories, the number of Etegami postcards Mrs. Hanashiro found in her letterbox each day expanded.
What is Etegami?
Etegami is poetry in the form of art. It is a colorful folk art consisting of simple hand-painted drawing and a few thoughtful words, typically drawn on postcards to be shared by mail. The name comes from the Japanese word for "picture letter."
Sachiko Hanashiro, our Course supervisor and one of the most popular Etegami teachers in Japan, told us how writing and receiving Etegami helped her students unplug and connect during the three months of self-isolation.
As Japan entered weeks of quarantine, Mrs. Hanashiro sometimes received 10 Etegami postcards a day. The total has already exceeded 300 and is still growing. “I feel so fortunate that I have practiced Etegami!” is what her students often wrote to her in their Etegami.
The postcard is not always filled with positive, happy messages. Etegami can be a venue for expressing fears, concerns, and agitations about the pandemic. It helps us to know that we are not alone by hearing from other people who are going through similar things.
In this article, we are sharing some of Mrs. Hanashiro’s Etegami and her notes created during March to June, 2020.
Praying it will be over soon.
I am longing to have a peaceful spring.
The spread of the corona virus is making people feel anxious. Please be careful, restrain voluntarily, and stay safe!
March 9, 2020
Hope they can hear the cheer.
The Sumo grand tournament started with no spectators in Osaka. I expect great matches in the 15-day tournament.
March 21, 2020
Mount Fuji was large in the spring haze.
I am looking up at the cherry blossoms. Tranquil.
I paid a visit to the gravesite of my family’s ancestors today. Oddly, I felt nostalgia by looking at the cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji against the blue sky.
March 29, 2020
Spring is crying over the COVID pandemic and the heavy snow warning. They turned the world into white.
Muscari flowers are wearing white hats! Quickly they became buried in the snow right in front of my eyes. The heavy snow warning has been issued to Chofu, Tokyo, where I live. The snow may help make people stay at home.
Quietly, quietly, quietly, quietly. Katakuris are blooming.
Katakuri flowers usually bloom calmly, but this year, they bloom especially “quiet”.
Sycamore tree bark looks like a camouflage pattern. Animals are angry, too.
Sycamore trees are expressive. This tree is particularly so with its arms stretched as if it is blocking the way. The pruned branches have large, muscular lumps. The bark is like a camouflage suit. Imagine animals hiding in the tree. So interesting.
April 10, 2020
What can we do right now? Staying home!
Crested iris blooms unpretentiously. I noticed the quiet beauty of them today while looking at the flower! Gardening is a perfect job to maintain good health. You can do bending and stretching exercises while bathing in the sun. I will never forget the bright color of greens and flowers in this special spring.
April 26, 2020
Eat well, stay well.
This is the time of year we go out to watch Koinobori (carp-shaped large streamers hang up to celebrate children’s day on May 5) but not this year. Instead, I purchased some Kashiwa-mochi (mochi wrapped in an oak leaf eaten on children’s day) at a bakery owned by a family of my son’s old classmate. The quarantine must be particularly difficult for children. I sincerely hope, someday in future, they would proudly say that these challenges helped them grow.
May 7, 2020
May! So bright! Today, I wanted to draw a Papa Meilland rose.
The thunderstorm is gone, and we have a bright morning. I can see snow-covered Mount Fuji from our home. Roses in my garden started blooming simultaneously by the sudden rise of temperature. I cannot say “maybe later” to draw them anymore.
May 9, 2020
From Madame Takagi’s hand to my hand. How lovely the shapes and colors are!
I extended my daily walking to look at Madame Takagi’s beautiful rose garden. Luckily, madame was there weeding. She was so kind to show me around and even picked some roses for me. Roses are so hard to draw! Maybe just looking at them is best.
May 14, 2020
Seeing a light ahead, we are dressed for the early summer.
Lupin, my favorite flower, is growing taller and taller. The restrictions are going to be lifted in some regions. We might be seeing a silver lining, but I hope people continue being careful and stay safe.
June 9, 2020
Kitokito (Toyama dialect for “Fish”). What am I going to do with them?
Top left: “Staying home. How have you been?” A big catch of kitokito! ("fish") Today is the day the fish were delivered from the Himi Fishing Port, Toyama. I cooked, I ate, and I drew.
Top right: We took off toward tomorrow.
Bottom left: Spent a hard time cleaning and filleting the fish, but I had fun thanks to my enthusiasm and my energy.
Bottom right: “The fun lies when I take out paper and a paintbrush, then I draw better than I expected.” Poem by Akemi Tachibana, Dokurakugin
I received a call from a fish dealer in Toyama whom I have been acquainted with over the years. “Sadly, fish are caught every day, but they have nowhere to go.” It is a tough time for everyone, but fishmongers are seeing a significant impact. Business dinners are cancelled, hotels are closed, and gourmet tourists are not visiting. So, I ordered a box, thinking I had made a donation.
What a surprise! A few days later, I received a huge wooden box full of beautiful fish. The attached letter read, “We caught a lot of fish today. They are perfect for sashimi, grill, stew, tempura, deep-fries, or pickling. Draw pictures of them, then enjoy a fish party!”
I took out a large paper, then I became engrossed in drawing until midnight, knowing well that such fresh fish start to change color once the freshness is lost. Imagine my struggle in the kitchen afterwards! I have never handled fresh fish as large as some of them. After cleaning and filleting , the fish were ready to be distributed to my son’s family and neighbors.
“In life, focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do.” This is a valuable suggestion from a famous scholar. Interestingly I was able to experience the effect of focusing on things we can do through my struggle with the fish.
I hope everyone has a great summer.
Based in Tokyo, Sachiko Hanashiro is a renowned artist and popular teacher of Etegami. She started making Etegami in 1985, and held her first exhibition in 1987. The number of students she taught online and offline is over 100,000. She is also the founder of the Etegami Flower Association, which she still runs. Her appearances on TV have helped to spread the culture of Etegami. In 2000, she was recognized with an award from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for her contributions to the letter-writing culture in Japan.