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Japan Tours and Life Style

Shodo- World Famous Japanese Calligraphy

When it comes to Japanese calligraphy, it is one of the most well-known and widely practised country’s traditional art form. In Japanese, it’s known as shodo, which literally translates to “writing style”. This traditional Japanese art form is very unique and beautiful, but not to forget it is also complicated. Calligraphy has a long and rich history all throughout the world, with Japanese calligraphy (Shodo) reaching back to the 6th century.

Mastering the highly recognised art form of shodo is a prestigious task these days.

Different types of traditional Japanese calligraphy can be discovered, notably in Japan, and have been practised by calligraphy experts.

To create excellent calligraphy, an artist employs a variety of techniques and instruments. Using a bamboo brush, white paper, ink, ink-stone, and paperweight, a master plans to bring his best piece of art to life. The true beauty of calligraphy is determined by three factors: the shape and placement of the characters, the force of the brushstrokes, and the ink phases.

Penmanship class is where Japanese elementary school students begin their fundamental shodo instruction. Some students even join extracurricular classes to learn more and practise their skills. However, only a small percentage will continue to study the traditional art outside of school.

History of Shodo

 

shodo calligraphy
[source]

 

For East Asia, calligraphy is an old art form. Its popularity grew from the Ancient Chinese culture to the present Japanese age. In general, Chinese calligraphy affected Japanese calligraphy tremendously.

It was first brought to Japan from its neighbouring country, China, in the sixth century. Though, according to history, the art of Japanese calligraphy began around 2000 years after the development of the first linguistically stable Chinese calligraphy scripts, metal inscriptions, and oracle bone character.

Emperor Saga established the new conventional Japanese style of calligraphic writing during the Heian period (794-1185).

Despite the fact that Japanese calligraphy evolved gradually from Chinese calligraphy, Japanese artists began to polish the Chinese style into their own as time passed. In their Calligraphy art, they began writing Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana syllabaries.

Calligraphy was not very popular in Japan at first, but it blossomed between 794 and 1185. The Golden Age of Japanese calligraphy is considered to be this time period.

The Kamakura period (1185-1333) is notable for two things: one, the military establishment’s dominant position in culture, and the other, the emergence of Zen Buddhism in the Land of the Rising Sun. Many Zen monks travelled to China to study Buddhism and purchase artefacts. The copybooks, which are highly significant for the karayo heritage and show a clear sense of kaisho style, were one of the items they purchased. Zen calligraphy was created by Zen monks cleansing their minds and adhering to the precept that the brush strokes could not be changed.

During the Muromachi period (1336-1537), the art of Japanese calligraphy flourished, despite the fact that civil conflict and political upheaval swept the country. This was the first time calligraphy was brought to the tea ceremony, and it has been an important element of it ever since.

This particular Japanese art was exported and introduced to Western cultures throughout the Edo period (1603-1868). This occurred right in the middle of the period. As the Edo period is known, the government developed a policy of isolation from outside influence. This implies that this policy aided Japanese calligraphers in focusing on their own unique style of calligraphy.

People in Japan know how to respect this style of Japanese art, which truly represents the entire country in the twenty-first century. Elementary school pupils must learn the basics, certain universities provide calligraphy courses, many calligraphy learning institutes have sprung up around Japan, and calligraphy exhibitions have been staged here and abroad over time.

Tools you need to practice Shodo

Shodo practise is not the same as practising for a pen licence. Because shodo is considered an art form, there are many components to making the appropriate station.

There are four components to shodo that are referred to as “Treasures”. All four components are constructed of simple materials, yet they are always crafted with great care, adhering to the Japanese philosophy of minimalism.

Sumi (ink stick): Pine branch soot is used to make the ink, and the sticks are usually blended with a glue binder and cured. In Japan, the mountains near Nara and Suzuka are recognised for generating high-quality ink.

Suzuri (inkstone): This is the tool that painters use to rub Sumi to make ink. This is a firm slate piece.

Kami or Washi (paper): This is a traditional Japanese textile manufactured from natural fibres such as mulberry, rag, or pulp. This type of paper is often tougher and absorbs ink better than regular paper.

Fude (Brush): This is, without a doubt, the most significant shodo tool. The hosofude, which is a thin brush, and the futofude, which is a thicker brush, are the two forms of fude. These are constructed of many types of animal fur and available in a variety of sizes.

Bunchin: It’s impossible to do calligraphy when it’s moving. Bunchin is used to keep your Hanashi (paper) stable. It’s a paperweight that keeps the paper from sagging.

Shitajiki: The hanashi is laid on top of a mat called a shitajiki. Shitajiki is usually black in hue, but pink and crimson Shitajiki have been seen recently.

Mizusashi: A water dropper is a tool used by artists to blend ink with a few drops of water.

Inkan: An inkan is a seal that is used to identify a calligraphy piece. Calligraphers in Japan commonly sign their work with an Inkan.

Different Styles of Shodo

Chinese calligraphy influenced early Japanese calligraphy. Many of the principles and practises are similar, and it recognises the following basic writing styles:

Seal script (tensho)(pinyin: zhuànshū):

 

Seal script shodo
[source]

 

The Seal Script was widely employed throughout China throughout the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) and the subsequent Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Tensho style dropped out of favour in favour of reishi after this time period. Tensho, on the other hand, was still utilised for inscriptions and titles of published works. Tensho’s clear and bold design made it ideal for titles, and the practise of using tensho exclusively for titles is still practised today. Tensho was mainly used for titles by the time Chinese letters and calligraphy arrived in Japan, and as a result, it was never widely utilised in Japan. The Torige Tensho Byobu, a six-paneled screen created during the Nara period (646-794), was the first work in Japan to use tensho. Each panel is divided into two columns, with eight characters in each column. A monarch is addressed by the screen, who advises him to seek the advice of wise ministers in order to rule justly.

Clerical script (reisho) (pinyin: lìshū):

The Clerical Script (reisho) is a bold and commanding Chinese calligraphy style in which each stroke is greatly exaggerated at the beginning and end. The term reisho had many different meanings during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), but it is now only known as one of five Chinese and Japanese calligraphy styles. The reisho technique is now reserved for large text applications such as plaques, signboards, work titles, and other large text applications due to its bold style. Until the Edo Period (1603-1868), when it was regarded as a calligraphic art form, this was also its primary function in Japan.

Regular script (kaisho) (pinyin: kǎishū):

The function of the Regular Script (kaisho) is comparable to that of Roman block capitals. While Japanese kaisho differs slightly from Chinese kaisho in terms of form and function, it is essentially based on a Chinese kaisho script. The Sui Dynasty (581-618) and the Tang Dynasty that followed strongly impacted the Japanese kaisho style (618-907). In Japan, the earliest examples of this type are largely inscriptions on statues and temples. This was in the early Heian Period (794-1185), and as Japan became more culturally independent, a version of kaisho evolved that was uniquely Japanese and featured a little bit of the gyosho style. The Lotus Sutra was the most common use of the kaisho technique as its popularity grew. During the Kamakura (1192-1333) and Muromachi (1338-1573) periods, the second wave of influence emerged, but it was dominated by Zen monks who utilised a technique based on Zen insight that differed from the traditional kaisho approach.

Semi-cursive (gyōsho) (pinyin: xíngshū):

 

Semi-cursive shodo
[source]

 

Semi-cursive Script (gyosho) is a cursive variation of the kaisho script. This script was used in conjunction with the reisho script. Seigyo, gyo, and gyosho are the three various stages of “cursiveness.” Gyosho uses a softer, more rounded manner, avoiding sharp corners and angles. During the early Heian Period in Japan, the gyosho technique was used to create a large number of works. When Japan began to separate from China later in the Heian Period, a Japanese equivalent known as wayo emerged. The Japanese variant of gyosho became extremely famous, and it served as the foundation for many calligraphy schools. This was due to gyosho’s compatibility with both kanji and hiragana, as well as the fact that writing with this technique was both natural and flowing.

Cursive (sōsho) (pinyin: cǎoshū):

The Han Dynasty gave birth to the Cursive Script (sosho). Scribes employed it to take notes as a cursive variant of reisho. Inscriptions on bamboo and other wooden strips are early examples of sosho. Many strokes ending with a sweep to the top right in a breaking-wave type form distinguish this method. As the Han Dynasty drew to an end, a new kind of sosho emerged, but this one was written slowly rather than the speedier sosho that had previously been popular. It’s unclear when Sosho was first presented. Several Japanese texts shared many sosho-like techniques with Chinese texts during this time, but it wasn’t until Kukai, a famous Japanese Buddhist monk and scholar, travelled to China during the early Heian Period and brought back copies of texts he wrote in the sosho style that the sosho style was officially recognised.

Techniques and Characteristics

Shodo is first and foremost an art form, therefore traits and procedures are just beginning points for the artist before he or she adds his or her own personal touch to each item. Basic approaches and best practises for developing a valuable Japanese calligraphic work of art are outlined below.

Ways to Hold a Brush:

 

shodo calligraphy
[source]
 

Calligraphers hold their brush in a few different ways. The brush is held like a pencil in the Tankoho method, with the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. The artists use their ring fingers in the Sokoho method.

Choice of Paper:

There are many different types of paper available, especially now that the process has grown more modernised. The white paper is typically used for Kanji, and letter paper is typically used for brush writing or delivering personalised letters. Calligraphers have a wide range of patterns, colours, and thicknesses to select from.

Basic Brush Strokes:

Eiji Happo refers to the eight basic brush strokes used in Kanji. Before being used, each stroke is practised and mastered.

 

Brushstroke Japanese English Chinese
1 Ten Dot Soku
2 Yokoga Horizontal stroke Roku
3 Tatega Vertical stroke Do
4 Hane Upflick from a horizontal or vertical stroke Teki
5 Migihane Rightward upflick Saku
6 Hidaribarai Leftward downstroke Ryaku
7 Hidarihane Leftward downflick Taku
8 Migibarai Rightward downstroke Taku

 

 

Other features include:

  • The horizontal strokes come first.
  • The majority of the script is written from left to right, top to bottom.
  • One of the most treasured characteristics of the profession is variation. Typically, a single painting will incorporate a variety of techniques and strokes.

Practice Shodo at Home

If you’re just getting started with Japanese calligraphy, it’s essential to check with a shodo expert to see what will work best for you. The four ‘Treasures’ listed above are required to begin, however, there are two more components that may be useful when you’re just getting started:

Bunchin paperweight: This keeps your paper in place as you practise calligraphy.

Shitajiki felt pad: This is a mat that is placed beneath the paperweight to prevent markings on the sheets beneath it and to give a smoother writing surface.

Learning Shodo is one thing, but mastering it requires decades of practice. There are several basic skills and qualities that would be beneficial to perfect before morning on when beginning out.

The way you hold the brush is one strategy for practising. True calligraphers use their brush in a few different ways. The Tanhoko method, in which the brush is held like a pencil with the thumb, index, and middle fingers, is one of the most popular. The calligrapher will also use their index finger in the Sohoko technique.

When you are practicing at home, try the basic brushstrokes of calligraphy (given in the table above). This is a great way to get introduced to the art of Shodo.

Calligraphy, like other Japanese arts and antiques, was brought to Japan from another civilization. The Japanese immediately absorbed the practice and made it their own, developing new forms and techniques that were unique to them.

Shodo is truly an enchanting art form that is very beautiful to witness. The Japanese people’s culture, traditions, and practices are shone through as they absorbed it and made it their own. It is now regarded as one of the most finely articulated artforms in Japanese culture, with a value comparable to that of highly regarded paintings. Collectors of Japanese art may appreciate the subtlety of each brushstroke as well as the spiritual and symbolic aspects of each piece.

LEARN MORE ABOUT JAPAN ART & AND CULTURE HERE.

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