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The Different Styles of Japanese Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy is an elegant and emotive craft that is steeped in rich history and culture. Anybody can practice and learn this unique art form, which is also known as shodo Japanese calligraphy, and it is expressed beautifully through a series of brush strokes. Shodo directly translates to ‘the way of writing’, and it takes decades to master this form of calligraphy truly. In this article, we will provide a brief history of Japanese calligraphy, identify the different styles, and discuss the tools you need to get started!

History of Japanese Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy is rooted in Chinese calligraphy and was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in approximately 6th century AD. At the time, Japan had a spoken language but not a written one, and began adopting and adapting Chinese calligraphic symbols to reflect the Japanese language; this process took place over many centuries. Nowadays, Japanese calligraphy experts still study both Japanese and Chinese calligraphy.

Typically, Japanese calligraphic symbols are more simplistic than their Chinese counterparts. However, the most significant difference between Japanese style calligraphy and Chinese style calligraphy is that the Japanese use a combination of kanji symbols and kana symbols.

Today, many primary schools in Japan introduce and teach shodo Japanese calligraphy to students in order to promote Japanese culture, instil discipline and practice mindfulness.

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Japanese Kanji Calligraphy and Japanese Kana Calligraphy

The two types of symbols you will find in Japanese calligraphy are called kanji symbols and kana symbols.

Japanese kanji calligraphy is made up of over ten-thousand complex and unique symbols that each have a specific meaning, like sun, five or rice. You can also combine more than one symbol to create more words. Many kanji symbols have more than one meaning and pronunciation, depending on the context in which it is used. 

The Japanese kana calligraphic system is comprised of symbols that are much simpler than kanji symbols. The system was created by combining hiragana symbols and katakana symbols.

Hiragana symbols are primarily used for grammatical purposes, with each hiragana symbol representing a syllable as opposed to having a specific meaning. In total, there are forty-six basic hiragana symbols.

Katakana symbols, however, are primarily used for writing loan words, foreign words, the names of people, the names of geographical places, and onomatopoeia.

Japanese Zen Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy is heavily influenced and inspired by Zen, a strong element of Buddhist culture. To practice Japanese zen calligraphy, you must have a clear, focused mind. Such a state of mind will allow you to execute your brush strokes confidently, fluidly and emotively. Every symbol is entirely unique, depending on who drew it and when they drew it. Therefore, each symbol that is drawn can never be identically replicated. 

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Japanese Calligraphy Writing Styles

There are three main approaches you can take when writing Japanese style calligraphy. They are Kaisho, Gyosho and Sosho.

Kaisho, or ‘square style’, is a precise style of brush strokes. Each stroke must be carefully and expertly executed, paying close attention to the order of the strokes, their composition and their proportions.

Gyosho, or ‘moving style’, is the most popular of Japanese style calligraphy. The strokes in every symbol are drawn more quickly and must convey fluidity and motion. You can be more creative with this style, and more relaxed in your approach.

Sosho, or ‘grass style’, is a cursive style of Japanese calligraphy that is thought to reflect wind blowing over grass. Sosho is the most abstract of the three approaches and is, therefore, the most difficult to read and understand. Since this style is so abstract, you cannot develop your sosho approach without mastering the kaisho approach first.

Japanese Style Calligraphy Tools

To practice Japanese style calligraphy, you will need some calligraphy paper and a Japanese pen, or a calligraphy brush and sumi ink. Sumi ink is black and is traditionally made from the soot of pine trees and other vegetable sources or plants’ seed oils. For beginners, it is recommended that you start learning with a pen as opposed to using brush and ink.

We hope that you are now feeling inspired to practice some Japanese style calligraphy! It is a fantastic and unique craft to learn and produces stunning artwork. Developing your calligraphic skills is also an excellent way to practice mindfulness and de-stress, which is something we could all benefit from.

All you need to get started is some calligraphy stationery, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a shodo Japanese calligraphy master!

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