What is Japanese Calligraphy?

Japanese Calligraphy has been a fine art form for centuries. Known as ‘Shodo’, the history of this calligraphy has Chinese roots that were introduced into Japan at around 600 AD. At the start of calligraphy in China, it was used for inscribing bones with pictographs as a religious practice. This then evolved into a standardised script through the orders of the prime minister in the Chinese dynasty of Qin, Li Si. When calligraphy was standardised into a uniform script, rules of calligraphy were created: horizontal strokes were to be written before any other strokes, and characters were to be composed starting from top to bottom and left to right.

Calligraphy Traditions

Traditionally, calligraphy was studied by Aristocrats and Samurais. In Japan, the oldest calligraphic text is in an inscription on the halo of the Medicine Buddha statue in the Horyu-ji Temple. In the Heian period, Chinese influences in calligraphy remained, as royalty, aristocracy, and court ladies studied calligraphy through copying Chinese poetry texts. In terms of style, calligraphy started off as featuring sharp, straight, and angular lines. However, when brushes and ink were introduced, these lines became curvaceous and thick.

There is a strong connection between Zen Buddhism and Japanese Calligraphy. For any piece of paper, no corrections can be made to brush strokes. Because of this, any lack of concentration or confidence can be detected in the work. Each aspect of Calligraphy represents the calligrapher at that given time. It was through Zen Buddhism that Japanese calligraphy absorbed a distinct aesthetic, which is often symbolised using the circle of enlightenment,

Styles of Calligraphy

During the Heian period, Japan began to develop its own style of calligraphy. Although basic characters remained the same, there were aspects of pronunciation that could not be represented using the Chinese characters. There are three main styles of Calligraphy: Kaisho, Gyosho, and Sosho, Kaisho is the most common style of calligraphy and is a block style. Gyosho is a ‘running hand style’. And Sosho is a flowing and graceful style. Learners tend to start by practicing the Kaisho style, and then steps up to the Gyosho style and then Sosho style.

Calligraphy Today

Calligraphy is taught in Japan’s elementary schools as a mandatory subject. Here, students are taught the basic penmanship of calligraphy. At the beginning of the year, an activity known as Kakizome often takes place in schools. This involves children symbolising their wishes for the new year using calligraphy. Considered an art subject, many students choose to take it as an optional subject, and some individuals even choose to go to special schools to learn the art, or participate in weekend/evening classes.

There are many Japanese Calligraphy artists that use Calligraphy as a form of beautiful expression. Saren Nagata is a highly acclaimed Japanese Calligraphy artist, selling her works and displaying them in various exhibits.

If you’re feeling inspired and would like to try out calligraphy for yourself, we have a wonderful range of calligraphy materials available. If you need any help or advice, do not hesitate to contact us.

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