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Japanese Calligraphy styles

Updated on July 30, 2012

"Shodou" calligraphy writing styles

The word Shodou consists of two characters pronunced "Sho" (meaning writing) and "dou" (meaning way) which translates to "The way of writing", and can broadly be referred to the art of beautiful hand writing.

Beautiful handwriting is heavily focused on in the Japanese schooling system, paricularly in regards to getting the stroke order correct when studying KANJI and the phonetic alphabets HIRAGANA & KATAKANA , so most kids are equipped with a calligraphy set from an early age. Although time consuming calligraphy is one of the best ways to LEARN KANJI, but is also great as a hobby.

But what exactly does a calligraphy set consist of? And what kind of writing styles are applied? Japanese calligraphy has three basic styles KAISHO, GYOSHO and SOSHO, and with some debate it actually has four, with the fourth being KANA (Hiragana & Katakana writings).

Here's an overview of the KAISHO, GYOSHO and SOSHO writing styles as well as an explanation of what you can expect to find in a standard calligraphy set.

Image source:

WikiCommons / Hachiro Onoue


The kanji "Kai" ( meaning block) + "Sho" (meaning writing) literally means block writing, and is the most easy-to-read writing style. It's very similar to a newspaper print and it's the easiest style to start with when learning calligraphy.

The writing style is very clear as each stroke is clearly separated compared to the flowing strokes of the Gyosho and Sosho writing styles.

Image credit: WikiCommons / Kanko

Great How-to books on Japanese calligraphy


The characters "Gyou" (meaning going or journey) + "sho" (meaning writing) forms the word Gyousho, which is often referred to as the SEMI-CURSIVE writing style. It is more of an everyday quick writing style, which some older Japanese people still use today as a form of shorthand, as the strokes are more coherent compared to the Kaisho style where each stroke is clearly separated.

When using the Gyousho style the strokes flow into each other making it harder to read for foreign students of the Japanese language, but for native Japanese and Chinese speakers reading characters in the Gyousho style is usually not causing any problems.

Japanese calligraphy art books


"Sou" + "Sho" literally means grass writing but is more commonly referred to as the fully cursive writing style.

The Sousho writing style is the most abstract form which allows the individual artist to fully explore the artistic potential of each character. Individual artists' interpretation of characters can differ tremendously, and readability can even for a trained eye be extremely difficult. Characters flow into each other and sometimes one entire character may even be drawn without lifting the brush.

Attempting this style is generally not recommended for at first time calligrapher as it requires a lot of skill and practice, so start with the Kaisho style to avoid any disappointment :-).

What is in a calligraphy set?

Some of the most common calligraphy tools are:

Shitajiki: Soft pad

Bunchin: Metal stick that holds down the paper when writing.

Hanshi: Thin paper which is used especially for calligraphy.

Suzuri: Tray for ink.

Sumi: Ink stick which is mixed with water in the tray to create ink. Today ready to use ink bottles are often used as a replacement.

Fude: Brush. One larger brush for writing the main characters and a smaller brush for writing the artist's name. The small brush can also be used for writing characters.

Can anyone learn calligraphy?

I have done a fair few calligraphy courses and I'm far off from calling my self an artist :-), but I believe that anyone can learn the techniques with practice and dedication.

On a basic level it is not as difficult as it may seem, so just take it step by step and take it as it comes. But once and for all - Have some fun with it!

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This lens has been blessed by Squid Angel:


A Big Thank you

Any thoughts? Have you ever tried calligraphy or would you like to start? I appreciate your comments.

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    • profile image

      beyondcalligraphy 4 years ago

      Thank you for taking the time to write all of this. I really like the Minagawa Kien image

    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 5 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      Caligraphy is an amazing any language.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

      I adore Japanese calligraphy and enjoyed learning more here. Those Zazzle prints are beautiful too.

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 5 years ago from Ireland

      All forms of calligraphy are so beautiful and artisitic. My father has scribed our family tree in calligraphy adorned with artistic colors linking specific lineage. It's definitely an art form.

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 5 years ago

      Calligraphy is an art-form that is both abstract and definite at the same time. Wonderful lens.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      very interesting lens

    • exotickitten731 profile image

      exotickitten731 5 years ago

      I love the look of all kinds of Calligraphy, thanks for sharing = ]

    • profile image

      cmadden 5 years ago

      At one time, I took up calligraphy, but never tried Japanese calligraphy - it is quite beautiful.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      I was going to do a lens on calligraphy but you did a great job here. Very informative.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      yes, calligraphy writing is my hobby. appreciate your lovely presentation. ~blessed~

    • creativeinc lm profile image

      creativeinc lm 6 years ago

      Calligraphy is a beautiful art form. Great lens.

    • SilverLotus1 profile image

      SilverLotus1 6 years ago

      I like this lens - nice work!

    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 6 years ago

      Thank you ShirlW and elyria!

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 6 years ago

      I've always been fascinated by Japanese calligraphy. You have show cased it very nicely.

    • elyria profile image

      elyria 6 years ago

      I have never tried calligraphy but would love to try it some time.

    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 6 years ago

      Thank you Tipi and JoshK47, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      An excellent intro on the forms of Japanese calligraphy. I especially like your encouraging comment to "have fun with it". It is a wonderful art form which is so appealing to the eye.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      I've always loved the aesthetic of Japanese characters - so elegant and beautiful. Great work.