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About Japanese Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy was influenced by, and influenced, Zen thought. For any particular piece of paper, the calligrapher has but one chance to create with the brush. The brush strokes cannot be corrected, and even a lack of confidence shows up in the work. The calligrapher must concentrate and be fluid in execution. The brush writes a statement about the calligrapher at a moment in time. 


To write Zen calligraphy with mastery, one must clear one's mind and let the letters flow out of themselves, not practice and make a tremendous effort.


History of Japanese Calligraphy

The Chinese roots of Japanese calligraphy go back to the twenty-eighth century B.C., to a time when pictographs were inscribed on bone for religious purposes. Because the symbols were inscribed with sharp instruments, the lines were originally angular. The ink-wet brush creates a line quite different from a sharp stylus. It affords variation in thickness and curve of line. The way a character was written gave a message of style.

Calligraphy in the Chinese tradition was introduced to Japan about 600 A.D. Known as the karayō tradition, it has been practiced up to today, rejuvenated continuously through contact with Chinese culture.


In the 15th century, the appreciation of calligraphy became an integral part of the tea ceremony.  During the Edo period, which brought 250 years of relative stability to Japan, lasting until the second half of the 19th century, Calligraphic studies were elevated.  In Japan today, Calligraphy is an elementary school subject and in high school and college, it is a popular art subject.


Japanese calligraphy’s three basic writing styles




Kaisho literally means “correct writing”. In other words, this is the style in which each of the strokes is made in a deliberate and clear way. This is the calligraphy style we use. 



Gyousho literally means “traveling writing” and refers to the semi-cursive style of Japanese calligraphy. Like cursive handwriting in English, this is the style that most people will usually use to write with when taking notes.




Sousho means “grass writing” and refers to the flowing cursive style of calligraphy. Here, form supersedes readability as the calligraphy artist rarely allows their brush to leave the paper, resulting in a graceful, swooping shapes.

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