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Learn about Japanese Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy, or shodo, which means way of writing, dates back to the origins of Chinese civilization and the creation of the Chinese writing system thousands of years ago. Importing the Chinese writing system (kanji) into Japan started the history of Japanese calligraphy.

When problems with linguistics and grammar rose from using kanji, creating a writing system that fit the Japanese language became a necessity. It led to the creation of a unique calligraphy style such as Kana.

Japanese Calligraphy Tools

Japanese calligraphers use a variety of tools in creating their works of art. These are the specialized tools you need to equip yourself with if you want to start learning the art of Japanese calligraphy.

  1. Fude – one of the four treasures of calligraphy, Fude is the calligrapher’s most important tool. The subtle manipulation of the fude or the brush is what distinguishes a master from a beginner. The two types of brush used by Japanese calligraphers are the hosofude (slender) and the futofude (think).
  2. Sumi – Also considered as one of the four treasures of calligraphy, sumi is the ink used in Japanese calligraphy. What sets this ink apart from the others is, it is made from charcoal.
  3. Suzuri – Another member of the four treasures is the suzuri inkstone. It is where the calligrapher rubs the sumi ink block to create the ink used in calligraphy.
  4. Shitajaki – The literal meaning of the term is “spread underneath”. It is a soft mat that is placed under the paper to protect the writing surface from getting soaked with ink. Shitajaki also provides a soft surface for writing. Japanese calligraphy beginners use a shitajaki with grid patters to help them create well-proportioned characters.
  5. Hanshi – The last of the four treasures, hanshi is a special paper used by calligraphers. Washi, an indigenous Japanese paper popular for its quality and durability, is the one often used by calligraphers.
  6. Bunchin – This is used to weigh down the paper when doing calligraphy. The bunchin is usually made of metal and placed on top of the hanshi.

Basic writing styles

Japanese calligraphy has three basic writing styles. Kaisho or correct writing is the first form that calligraphy students study. It is the style that each stroke is made in a clear way, creating a character that is similar to the printed version. Gyousho or traveling writing is Japanese calligraphy in semi-cursive style. This type of writing style is usually used when taking down notes. The third basic writing style in Japanese calligraphy is the Sousho or grass writing. This refers to the flowing cursive style of writing. In sousho, form is more regarded than readability because most of the time, the calligrapher doesn’t allow the fude to leave the paper resulting to swooping shapes.

Japanese calligraphy is a very beautiful but complicated art. The trained eye will know the difference between good and bad calligraphy. There are some guidelines to discern which is good and which is bad, like the natural balance of characters, the delicate curved lines, strong straight lines, or the amount of ink on the brush and its consistency. However, like any other art, distinguishing the difference is hard to describe.