Are you aware that writing can also be an art form? In Japanese culture, it is possible. It is because the Japanese make use of two writing styles simultaneously, namely, kanji and kana. The former is an ideogram that represents an idea of a thing without the use of its actual sound, while the latter is purely phonetic characters. If you want to explore more on this concerned topic, then continue reading this write-up. It focuses on the various aspects of Japanese calligraphy set that is essential in understanding its fundamentals. The content of this write-up will also help you in selecting the best Japanese calligraphy set.
What is Japanese Calligraphy?
Also known as Shodo, Japanese calligraphy is an art of writing that uses the hand in creating symbols or letters with the help of a brush dipped in ink. It is a rare art form that conveys meanings; as such, it is a means of communication. Fully mastering the skills of calligraphy requires a lot of training, and the traditional practice of Japanese calligraphy involves passing the learned skills from one generation to another.
Beauty and balance of the writing are the main emphases of Japanese calligraphy. Traditional Japanese calligraphy consists of a bamboo brush and Sumi ink stick, prepared mainly from the soot of pine branches. Calligraphers execute flowing brushstroke that is, to a certain extent, similar to painting. To utilize the ink, the calligraphers have to rub it against a flat surface stone. This procedure allows the ink stick to turn into a fine powder. Then, they add water, and the result of the ink is a deep black.
Symbols of Japanese Calligraphy:
In Japanese calligraphy, characters or symbols are means of conveying meanings or thought to others. There are two groups of symbols or characters created in Japanese calligraphy, namely, kana and kanji. Every character or symbol is unique, drawn with a sequence of horizontal, vertical, and angled brush strokes. The symbols of kana do not have any specific meanings, but they represent syllables. The symbols of kanji are significantly complex. In Japanese calligraphy, there are more than 10,000 symbols of kanji, each consisting of specific meanings. You do not have to pronounce them to understand its meaning. The symbols in Japanese calligraphy can represent an idea or thing such as happiness, peace, luck, horse, volcano, and dog, among many others.
Creating a symbol in Japanese calligraphy requires precise height, length, and specific direction with each brushstroke. With so many symbols or characters, each conveying a particular meaning, we can rightly agree that Japanese calligraphy is a challenging and complicated art form.
A Brief History of Japanese Calligraphy:
The foundations of Japanese calligraphy trace back to China around 2000 years ago. During this time, the Japanese language did not have a written form. As such, people gradually began to adopt symbols or characters from the writing system of Chinese, which continued until the 8th
century. The Chinese symbols underwent several changes over time, and this continued development resulted in the creation of a unique Japanese written language. One of the distinctive differences between the Japanese language and Chinese language is the combination of the words kana and kanji, unknown in Chinese calligraphy.
This gradual development of Japanese calligraphy continued through the 14th century, and the adaption of Chinese symbols into Japanese kanji continued. Nevertheless, some Japanese artists such as Ono no Michikaze started developing their authentic calligraphic forms.
Japanese calligraphy has continued to maintain its position as one of Japan’s most valued art forms since its inception. In modern Japan, Shodo is a vital art subject for students of elementary and junior high school. With the advent of performance calligraphy, it has become significantly famous for high school club activity. Japanese believe that practicing calligraphy can have several benefits, including even spiritual and mental.
Japanese Calligraphy Set: Essential Tools
Understanding and familiarizing the different essential tools of Japanese calligraphy is fundamental for anyone wanting to practice the art of Japanese calligraphy. It will also help you to purchase the best Japanese calligraphy set from the market. Japanese calligraphy tools, known as the Four Treasures, are significantly different from the supplies of western art. The Four Treasures include paper, ink, brush, and inkstone.
· Brush (Fude): Known as Fude, Japanese calligraphy brush is one of the essential tools for executing the art of writing. These types of brush, with its perfect design, allow making any movements needed for creating the Japanese calligraphic symbols or characters. There are two types of Japanese calligraphy brushes, namely, Futo Fude (thicker brush) and Hosofude (thin brush). The traditional material used for making the handle is bamboo. The bristles consist of animal fur, which comes in varied sizes and shapes. Nowadays, plastic handles and synthetic bristles are also available.
· Ink Stick (Sumi): The ink stick, known as Sumi, is another essential tool of Japanese calligraphy that demonstrates its most excellent craftsmanship. Soot from pine trees and animal glue were the traditional source for making Japanese calligraphy ink sticks. Once extracted, craftsmen usually dry it for several months. The best Japanese calligraphy ink sticks are more than 50 years, and it will neither fray nor crack. To get liquid ink, the calligraphers will grind these stick on an inkstone.
· Ink Stone (Suzuri): Known as Suzuri, inkstone is another essential tool included in a Japanese calligraphy set. The primary function of this tool is to grind the ink sticks, mainly done by rubbing against the stone. Then, they add water to create the black ink. The inkstone has a flat surface like a sloped pan with a slightly dented end, which holds fresh water. Nowadays, this tool is also available in other materials such as bronze and other related metals. The inkstone is the heaviest tool included in a Japanese calligraphy set.
· Paper (washi): The Japanese calligraphy paper, known as washi, is slightly sturdy than ordinary paper. The traditional Japanese calligraphy paper uses local fibre, which is usually handmade. One of the greatest attributes of Japanese calligraphy paper is that it can absorb ink better.
Other Tools included in a Japanese Calligraphy Set:
Some other tools included in a Japanese calligraphy set are as follow:
· Paperweight (Bunchin): Included in a Japanese calligraphy set is a paperweight, which keeps the papers in place as the calligrapher wields the brush. It can consist of several materials such as copper, bronze, stone, and glass.
· Desk Pad (Shitajiki): It is another tool of Japanese calligraphy, which is similar to a pencil board. The objective of the desk pad is to protect the paper from pressure applied during brushstrokes. Moreover, it protects the paper from getting any stains, and it offers an enhanced surface for writing.
Writing Style of Japanese Calligraphy:
Originated from Chinese calligraphy, the writing style of Japanese calligraphy is quite similar to that of Chinese calligraphy. Some of the types of writing styles are as follow:
· Kaisho or Block Style: Usually, the students of Japanese calligraphy begin by learning Kaisho, which is the most basic style of writing. The Japanese Kaisho is a formal style that provides a foundation for other types of writing styles. The strokes follow a diligent and rigid order, and the students have to study the composition and proportions and execute them carefully. Correctness is essential when it comes to practicing Japanese Kaisho. Once artists understand this style, they can advance to other writing styles.
· Gyosho or Semi-Cursive Style: Another type of writing style in Japanese calligraphy is Gyosho or semi-cursive. Three different levels of cursive exist in Japanese calligraphy. This semi-cursive style makes use of a softer and rounded technique, thereby avoiding sharp angles and corners. The symbols or characters of kanji should have a sense of continuity and fluidity. Unlike the Kaisho style, this writing style is less strict. As such, artists can slightly alter the shape, order, and composition of the brushstrokes, based on their creative style.
· Sosho or Cursive Style: In comparison with the above two styles, this style is the most difficult to comprehend and master it. The objective of this style in Japanese calligraphy is to imitate the effect of wind blowing grass. In this style of writing, the symbols or characters drawn are illegible to many since the artists can simplify ten brushstrokes into one to two strokes. Due to these complexities, an artist should first master the other writing styles before attempting this style. Moreover, the calligraphy mainly uses this style in abstract works of art.
Older Notable Styles of Writing:
There are two styles of writing that have failed to retain their authentic characteristics. Only a few elements of these writing styles remain today.
· Tensho: Referred to as seal script, this style of writing is perhaps the oldest that developed before the introduction of ink and paper. After the Qin Dynasty, the popularity of this writing style fell out in favour of another writing style. Nevertheless, the calligrapher used this writing style for titles of inscriptions or published works. This practice of utilizing this style only for titles still exists today.
· Reisho: Also referred to as the scribe’s script or clerical script, it consists of a bold and commanding writing style.
Techniques and Characteristics of Japanese Calligraphy:
Some of the essential techniques and characteristics of Japanese calligraphy are as follow:
· Brush Holding Techniques:
Japanese calligraphers hold the brush in several ways. In the Tankouhou method, the calligraphers hold the brush by using three fingers like holding a pencil, which includes the use of index finger, middle finger, and thumb. In the Soukouhou method, the calligraphers use four fingers to hold the brush, which includes the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.
· Basic Brushstrokes:
There are eight essential brushstrokes in Japanese calligraphy kanji. The artists have to master each stroke before putting it to use. The following table presents the different brushstrokes of Japanese calligraphy:
|Brush stroke||Japanese Calligrapgy||English Translation|
|4||Hane||Upflick from a vertical or horizontal stroke|
· The artists write horizontal strokes first.
· The artists write a script from left to right and top to bottom.
· A single work of art usually exhibits a mixture of different and strokes and styles.
Benefits of Practicing Japanese Calligraphy:
Apart from its immortal beauty, practicing Japanese calligraphy has many benefits that range from mental to spiritual gains. Some of the benefits of practicing Japanese calligraphy are as follow:
· Grows Discipline: One of the benefits of practicing Japanese calligraphy is that it allows you to develop a desirable discipline. The reason is that creating uniform kanji symbols or characters require a lot of patience, time, and commitment.
· Develop Aesthetics: Practicing Japanese calligraphy allows you to improve your understanding of nature and beauty. Japanese calligraphy is not merely a sequence of careful ink strokes, but rather it comprises a larger holistic process.
· Builds Practical Skills: Practicing Japanese calligraphy also helps you to build practical skills such as painting, designing, and other related applications.
· Provides Stress Relief: Another essential benefit of practicing Japanese calligraphy is that it reduces stress. Japanese calligraphy is more than a finished work of art. The various activities, such as grinding the ink stick, creating a compatible ink, and making precise strokes, offers an opportunity for serene meditation. All these activities endorse calm attention, thereby relaxing the mind.
To sum up, Japanese calligraphy originated from another culture. Gradually, they began to develop new techniques and styles that are unique to them. Nowadays, Japanese calligraphy is one of the acclaimed art forms within the Japanese tradition. When it comes to purchasing a Japanese calligraphy set, you should note that some sets can consist of additional tools, depending on the price and style. To ensure that you choose the best Japanese calligraphy set, you should consult an expert.