【Culture】”Shodo,” Japanese Calligraphy, is the Most Familiar Fine Art in Japan2015.05.06


Shodo” or Japanese calligraphy is the most familiar fine art in Japan. A set of calligraphy tools is a must item for elementary school students as “shodo” is a part of the school curriculum. Traditionally, it has also been one of the most popular after-school lessons as well as piano and swimming.

Originated in China, “shodo” is the art of writing characters with a brush and ink on a paper. After the arrival of “kanji,”Chinese characters and Buddhism, it became common to copy Buddhist scriptures, which accelerated the dissemination of calligraphy. It is said to be in around the sixth- seventh century that it came into existence in Japan with the introduction of manufacturing brushes, ink and papers from China. The invention and spread of “kana,” Japanese characters in around the eighth-ninth century led to the development of “shodo” unique to Japan. In those days, it was considered as an important element of education for noble families.

Now, “shodo” is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture with its examples easily found in daily life. Such instances include nameplates at the front of houses, award certificates, New Year’s greeting cards, gravestones and labels on sake bottles.

In “shodo”, there are five writing styles which are “tensho,” “reisho,” “kaisho,” “gyosho” and “sosho.” “Tensho” is a seal-engraving style that is not applied in ordinary writing, while “kaisho” is a block style that is the most commonly used. “Gyosho” is a semi-cursive style with part of dots and lines written without a pause.

Calligraphy requires a minimum of four tools which are called “bunbo shiho.” They are an ink stone, brush, paper and ink. Among them, ancient calligraphers had a strong attachment to ink stones “suzuri.” In addition, a paperweight, “bunchin,” and a mat, “shitajiki,” are usually used to practice calligraphy.


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