by A. Richard Langley

If you hand a calligraphy brush or pen to most Westerners, they will probably be reluctant. Some will blunder both resources for a stylus, even though other people may well not be confident in their inventive means, penmanship—or information of calligraphy. In the Japanese culture, the time-honored art of calligraphy, or shodō (“the way of writing”), practiced by Samurai, nobles, and ordinary individuals because historical times, is consider both “the supreme art form” and an expression of character and spirit. Shodō is demanding and complex—it uses all 3 Japanese alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) in tandem—yet is uniquely absorbing to research and discover. Go through extra about shodō’s rich record and world influence, its elements and designs, and methods to research and working experience it.

Curated inside with artworks by Hiroshi Wada and Kingetsu Ishii

History of Shodō

To realize shodō’s evolution more than the centuries—and the specific, diverse brushstrokes of its practitioners—you have to have to know the origins of calligraphy, how shodō formed from it, and shodō’s relevance in the development of Japanese language and producing.

The place and When Did Shodō Start out

Emperor Qin Shi Huang (220-210 BC), the 1st emperor of Qin, tasked his prime minister, Li Si, with building a uniform script to help newly unified China increase communications with Japan, which didn’t have a prepared sort of language. This commenced a centuries-extensive system of adapting characters from Chinese producing into Japanese kinds and symbols. By the conclude of the Han dynasty in 220 Ad, shodō had all of its basic kinds.
The earliest existing calligraphic text in Japan is on the halo of the Medicine Buddha statue in Hōryū-ji, a revered Buddhist temple in Ikaruga—and the oldest picket building in the environment (done in 607 Ad).

The Spread of Shodō

WAY_04, Japanese Calligraphy on Paper, 19.5″ x 34.5″, $3600 by Hiroshi Wada (和田 浩志)

China also performed a essential purpose in creating shodō’s long lasting influence and acceptance throughout Japan. In the 6th century Ad, they released Mahayana Buddhism, which includes many volumes of Buddhist text, to Japan.  For the duration of the early years of the Heian Period of time (794-1185), 3 visionary calligraphers state-of-the-art the influence of shodō—and Buddhism—in Japan and established in motion the development of Japanese calligraphy with out Chinese influence. They received renown as sanpitsu (the “Three Wonderful Brushes”). Kūkai (774-835), a Buddhist monk, designed the kana syllabary, or phonetic script, in mix with the Chinese characters kanji. It is even now the standard for producing the Japanese language. A staunch supporter of Kūkai, Emperor Saga (786-842) helped Kūkai create the Shingon School of Buddhism by granting him Tō-ji, the 1st Buddhist temple in Japan (created between 588 and 596).

Japanese calligraphy
Tachibana no Hayanari (782-844) was a Japanese federal government official, calligrapher, and member of the Tachibana clan, a highly effective kuge (court nobility) loved ones in the Nara and early Heian durations.
Historians frequently recognize the creations of Ono no Michikaze (894-966) as the 1st genuinely Japanese calligraphic kinds.

Symbols and Sensibility

Shodō’s rise in Japan prompted both the development of Japanese symbols (kana) and the adaption of Chinese symbols (kanji). You attract all symbols with a collection of vertical, horizontal, and angled brushstrokes, and every single image has a special appearance.

Kana Symbols

Kana is the expression for the two prevalent Japanese syllabaries: hiragana and katakana. Every of the 71 symbols is phonetic, signifies a syllable, and does not have a particular indicating. Very cursive, kana employs kanji and an obsolete sort of producing identified as hentaigana.

Kanji Symbols

In kanji, the most made use of prepared conversation sort in Japan, every single image (estimated at extra than 50,000) signifies a thought or notion. Fashionable Japanese uses about 15,000 of these symbols, some of which have various meanings. Kanji uses the five important Japanese producing designs.

Generate With Design and style(s)

The 3 most made use of designs of Japanese calligraphy are kaisho, gyosh, and sosho.
The Japanese designs of calligraphy are extra slender, fluid, and exquisite than Chinese calligraphic scripts.


You split into shodō by mastering the standard “block design and style.” Every stroke follows a demanding order, and you ought to be pretty specific in the composition and proportion (size, height, and way) of characters.


Artist and writers choose the artistic flexibility of the semi-cursive “running hand design and style.” Its brushstrokes have extra motion and fluidity, and the symbols are considerably less angular.


With the challenging-to-discover “grass hand” design and style, the brush stays on the paper in a flowing, swish cursive design and style (like wind blowing the grass). It draws in individuals who want to develop summary, Zen-motivated art wherever the flow of creative imagination is not damaged.
Two other older designs even now in use—tensho (“seal script,” the oldest design and style) and reisho (“scribe’s script)—aren’t suited for quick producing.

Researching Shodō

For all who research it, shodō calls for deep appreciation and regard for the craft and steely self-discipline. In advance of you start off studying, even so, you ought to have the appropriate resources and know shodō’s basic traits and strategies.

Invest in Applications

In training shodō, you will use resources identified as the “Four Treasures of the Study.”
Treat them with the identical reverence as you do shodō. Price ranges can vary, relying on elements such as design and style, dimensions, and shade. Do diligent exploration or talk to an pro.

A typical brush made use of for calligraphy, resource Wikipedia
  • Fude (brush) is the crucial tool. Made from different types of animal or human hair, it has two kinds: a slender brush (hosofude) and a thicker brush (futofude)
  • Sumi (inkstick) is soot (from pine branches) and animal glue
  • Suzuri (inkstone) is what artists use to rub the sumi ink black to generate ink
  • Kami (paper) ought to be difficult and take up ink. Normal fibers such as mulberry, rag, or pulp are suitable.

Brush Up on the Brush

You ought to 1st turn out to be proficient with the basics of the brush—holding and using
it—before you can put particular flourishes on a calligraphic work.
There are two methods to hold the brush: the Tankoho strategy and the Sokoho strategy. In both, you hold the brush like a pencil (with thumb, index finger, and center finger), but for the Sokoho strategy, add the ring finger.
Far more tricky to discover are the eight crucial brushstrokes (eijihappo) in kanji.
You ought to learn all the strokes in advance of using them.

Finding out Means

There are innumerable discovering resources for both new and knowledgeable shodō practitioners in Japan and overseas. These consist of on line schooling, in-course classes, books and guides, and tutorial videos on social media.

Shodō’s Impact On/Place in Fashionable Tradition

Shodō is ubiquitous in Japanese culture (e.g., galleries and museums, shopper goods, eateries, signage, community place, and festivals). It is notably widespread in the apparel, Television set, and gaming industries. And several quality educational facilities offer shodō programs to instill discipline, assurance, and enthusiasm for the craft in college students.

Curiosity in shodō is booming overseas, way too. In the U.S., the culture in cities with a higher populace of Asian-Americans (e.g., New York Town and San Francisco) reflects the influence of shodō. And, as extra individuals listen to and discover about it, shodō is spreading out from important cities. Quite a few universities with East Asian reports have programs in Japanese calligraphy, and you can even find a shodō show in a Fargo, N.D. gallery and other people throughout the heartland. Shodō is a genuinely special sort of art. To value its elegance and relevance, you ought to be sincere about your desire in the craft and its record. Working experience it now by location apart technologies to connect and using the timeless, regular art of shodō to specific your real feelings, spirit, and self—and increase your penmanship.

A. Richard Langley is a freelance author in Marietta, Ga. His byline has appeared in diverse shopper art and culture publications. Between them: Art & Antiques, Atlanta Citymag, Film Menace, and BlackBook. He also has working experience in art profits. For 3 years, he co-managed and stocked a booth of European art, antiques, and household furniture at Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta.

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