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Japanese Calligraphy: Art In Writing

Updated on March 6, 2012

Japanese Calligraphy: Family

Family (14th September) By Haiku Girl
Family (14th September) By Haiku Girl

Japanese Calligraphy … the art of Writing

Japanese Calligraphy, also known as Shodu (which means “the way of writing”) didn’t begin in Japan. Its origins can be traced back to ancient China where scholars and learned people of the time used ideograms (graphic symbols) to write and to communicate.

Over hundreds of years, Chinese ideograms eventually reached Japan (by way of Korea) in the 6th century. Through the process of evolution, the Chinese ideogram method of communicating gradually changed and after another 300 years had passed (it was now in the 9th century) this “language” of graphic symbols morphed into a new form of communication called kana, a phonetic script.

Evolution continued to occur to this early language and, ultimately over time, Japanese Calligraphy was born. It exists now as an art form. Among the Japanese, those whose Calligraphy skills rank high are considered artists. And there is a good reason for that.

Japanese Calligraphy: How to Write with a Brush

Not Just A Language

Japanese Calligraphy is light years beyond what most people consider written language. In fact, the Japanese think of Calligraphy “as art defined by movement and rhythm.” Few languages anywhere on earth are thought of in this manner. Yet, Japanese Calligraphy deserves that lofty designation because it is anything but ordinary, run-of-the-mill script.

In Japan today, it is regarded as the language of literature and philosophy … as script brought to the point of perfection – a visual art that is forever resonating with words. Skilled practitioners know that each stroke on the page is rich with meaning … each character speaks volumes. Truly, this is language raised to a very high level.

And yet, despite its splendor, the tools of the trade for Japanese Calligraphers are quite simple – paper (frequently it is rice paper) … ink … and bamboo brush. That’s it … except, of course, for the incredible skill that each of these remarkable artisans possess.

Japanese Calligraphy Practice

Japanese Calligraphy By Shugatastic
Japanese Calligraphy By Shugatastic

The Three Styles of Japanese Calligraphy

Most Calligraphers employ one of the three primary writing styles that are common in Japan today. There is kaisho … a “square style” that is reminiscent of Korean writing. Gyosho is a semi-cursive writing technique that appears more fluid and attractive when seen on a page. The most impressive style is sosho. This requires the most skill because it is fully cursive. As a result, it is employed by only the best Calligraphers.

Interestingly, the most beautifully-prepared pages of Japanese Calligraphy often end up framed and placed on a wall … as if they were works of fine art. Japanese Calligraphers are highly respected for their art … their steady hands … and their unique skills. They are artists in every sense of the word, but their art does not extend beyond the written word.

Japanese Calligraphy

The Many Uses For Calligraphy

Remember: Calligraphy is an art form in Japan. While it is true that Calligraphy can be found in most cultures (including American culture) it doesn’t receive the respect and acclaim given to Japanese Calligraphers. In the “Land of the Rising Sun” a skilled Calligrapher is perceived to be a master artist. And he is esteemed – by his peers and by the average man and woman, as well.

Japanese Calligraphy can often be found on walls – in private homes and elsewhere – because it is thought to be fine art. Calligraphers are hired to perform their mastery at weddings, anniversaries and other important formal celebrations.

The Japanese covet Calligraphy and many save works that include Calligraphy as if those works are assets that will appreciate over time. And, frankly, because they are recognized as fine art, the chances are good – perhaps very good – that their value will increase.

And even if the value of a well-done piece containing Calligraphy remains static, the piece you own but may be unable to sell is likely to give you much pleasure and satisfaction. Calligraphy matters in most western nations, but it matters the most in Japan.

Japanese Calligraphy Inkstone and Brushes

Inkstone and Brush By Kanko*
Inkstone and Brush By Kanko*

A Relaxing Craft

This magnificent art form can be highly relaxing, and remember: it is also a form of communication. Use it and enjoy it as it may not endure forever. And if you are truly adventurous, practice this fine art. See if, with instruction and patience, you, too, can become a skilled Calligrapher.

It is an excellent hobby (like painting) and once you become motivated and show progress the chances are good that you will find it difficult to stop. So … go for it. Buy a book on Calligraphy … enroll in and attend a class … learn this master skill … and, most of all, enjoy it.


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