Shodo – An Introduction To The Art Of Japanese Calligraphy

Shodo Japanese Calligraphy 2

The ancient traditional art of Japanese calligraphy is indeed as beautiful as it is intricate. Calligraphy (Shodo) itself boasts a long, rich history across the world, with Japanese calligraphy itself dating all the way back to the 6th century.

These days, mastering the highly regarded art form of shodo is a revered task. Japanese elementary school kids begin their basic training of shodo in penmanship class. Some students even take special classes outside of school to learn more and practice their skills. Only a small fraction, though, will continue outside of school to master the traditional art.

Japanese Calligraphy – What Is Shodo?

Shodo Japanese Calligraphy 4

To the untrained eye, shodo may appear to be just brush strokes of Japanese characters, but there is much more to it than that!

Shodo is reliant on the technique of the brush strokes, the flow of brush and ink, the accurate composition of characters, the way the brush is handled, the shading of the ink, the placement of the characters…the list can go on and on and on.

More than just a physical exercise, shodo is a mental practice of connecting the body and mind to ensure everything flows in harmony.

History Of Shodo

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The art of shodo originated from China, eventually making its way through to Japan. Initially, calligraphy was an essential part of education for the members of the ruling families. However, as time passed by, shodo organically spread to the common people as well.

The origins of Japanese calligraphy are derived from Chinese calligraphy characters, which were modified to fit the Japanese language – this became known as Kanji. Japanese calligraphy will go on to incorporate Kanji alongside Japanese syllabic scripts hiragana and katakana.

The Tools You Need To Practice Japanese Calligraphy

Shodo Japanese Calligraphy 1

Practicing Shodo is not like practicing for your pen license. As it is considered an artform, there are many elements to creating the proper station needed to practice shodo.

Referred to as “Treasures”, there are four components that are essential to shodo. Adhering to the Japanese principle of minimalism, all four components may be made of simple materials, however, they are always crafted in great care.

They are:

  1. Sumi (ink stick): The ink is made from the soot of pine branches and the sticks are usually mixed with a glue binder and dried. The mountainsides close to Nara and Suzuka in Japan are known for producing high quality ink.
  2. Suzuri (ink stone): This is what artists use to rub the Sumi to create the ink. This is made from hard slate.
  3. Kami or Washi (paper): This is made from the natural fibres of such things as mulberry, rag, or pulp. This traditional paper is typically tougher than ordinary paper and absorbs ink better.
  4. Fude (Brush): This is arguably the most important tool required for shodo. There are two types of fude: the hosofude, which is a slender brush, and the futofude, which is a thicker brush. These are made from different kinds of animal hair and come in various sizes.

You can get all these tools in this kit and start to practice Shodo at home: Calligraphy Set.

Calligraphy Kit

How To Practice Shodo At Home

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If you’re just starting out, purchasing the tools for Japanese calligraphy may be a bit overwhelming so it may be best to consult with a shodo expert to see what will work best for you. The four ‘Treasures’ above are a necessity to start, however, there are two other components which may help you when you’re just starting:

  1. Bunchin paperweight: this is used to hold your paper stable whilst practicing your calligraphy.
  2. Shitajiki felt pad: This is a mat placed underneath the paperweight to prevent markings on the sheets below and also provide a smoother surface for writing.

Learning Shodo is one thing, but mastering it is something that takes decades. When starting off, there are some basic techniques and characteristics that would be helpful to perfect before morning on.

One technique for trying to practice is the way of holding the brush. There are a handful of ways that true calligraphers hold their brush. One of the most popular methods is the Tanhoko method, where the brush is held like a pencil, using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. In the Sohoko method, the calligrapher will also add their index finger.

When practicing at home, practicing the basic brush strokes of calligraphy is a great way to get introduced to the art of writing.

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

Shodo is an enchanting artform that is beautiful to witness. As the Japanese people adopted it and made it their own, their cultural styles and techniques really shone through. Today, it is considered one of the most revered artforms within Japanese culture and is appreciated much like a valuable painting.

Similar to Shodo, you can discover the secrets of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony here.

Finally, you can also read these blog posts if you want to learn more about Japanese Culture.

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