Shodo, Japanese Calligraphy

Shodo, Japanese Calligraphy

"Shodo" - calligraphy

Shodo, the art that reflects inner world

Shodo, Japanese Calligraphy is an art of stylized writing that expresses the beauty of letters, like kanji or kana, using an ink brush, ink and paper.

There are three styles of writing :kaisho, the basic block writing in which each of the strokes is made in a deliberate and clear way ;sosho, the semi-cursive writing that makes each stroke flow together to form more rounded whole ;and gyosho, fully cursive writing where strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing.They are flexibly used depending on occasions along with the required manner of writing.

With shodo, proportion of character, brush marks, the shades of ink, the arrangement of characters as a whole, and the meaning of the words are appreciated.

Calligraphy-experience program for foreign tourists in Japan


Shodo was originally developed in China, and was introduced to Japan in the late Nara Period (710 to 794AD) along with the manufacturing method of ink brushes, ink and paper.

Writing characters with an ink brush and ink was regarded as an indispensable cultural element for aristocrats and samurai class. Later, it spread among ordinary people.

The most famous three good penmen in the history of shodo were called ‘Sanpitsu’-The Three Great Brushes-Kukai, Tachibana no Hayanari, and the Emperor Saga in the Heian period (794 to 1185AD).

Even today, the Japanese occasionally use an ink brush and ink in writing, for example, at ceremonial occasions. On kakizome-literally first writing-the Japanese tradition observed at the beginning of the year, people express their New Year’s resolutions or prayers in calligraphic form.

A portrait of Kukai, one of The Three Greatest Brushes in Japan (above)

"Fushinjo" written by Kukai 

Basic procedure

Tools called bunbo-shiho,-four important tools for calligraphy-an inkstone, ink brush, Indian ink and Japanese calligraphic paper-are used at shodo. If you use sumi, an ink stick as a substitute for bottled ink, you need water to make ink. For shodo, you must also learn and use a good posture when writing.

Basic procedures are as follows. First, pour water into the well of ink stone, and make ink. Then soak the ink brush into the ink, while holding around the middle of the shaft of the brush with your thumb, forefinger and the middle finger. The angle between the brush and the paper should be more vertical than that of writing with a pencil. Straighten your back and hold the paper lightly with your left hand. Kanji characters and kana are formed to write easily with right hand, therefore it is better to use the right hand to create good-looking calligraphy.

Typical tools of shodo

Shodo, Japanese Calligraphy: Video Gallery

Performances by students of Oita high school, won the 6th 'Shodo Performance Koshien, a national tournament of shodo of high school students. You can see students creating their works accompanied by back ground music, not just writing.