Japanese Caligraphy: Learn the culture through words

Japanese calligraphy is not only an important part of Japanese culture but also a relaxing and fun way to practice your Kanji! If you are troubled by Kanji studies, why don’t you take a break with some brushes and ink?


Japanese Calligraphy’s History & Philosophy
More than Holding a Brush and Drawing Strokes
Tools commonly used in Calligraphy
Japanese Calligraphy and Tea Ceremony

Japanese Calligraphy’s History & Philosophy

The artistic way of writing the Japanese language is known as 書道(しょどう). This can also be translated into English as the “way of writing”. Both the art and its name had first derived from Chinese culture.

The traditions of calligraphy were imported from China to Japan back during the 7th century. Throughout history, Chinese calligraphers have deeply influenced Japanese calligraphy styles.

However, with the development of Hiragana and Katakana, a style unique to Japan also emerged. Nowadays, calligraphy is a mandatory subject in elementary school and in high school as an art subject.

Japanese calligraphy
Japanese Calligraphy

More than Holding a Brush and Drawing Strokes

Calligraphy is considered an art form tied to Zen thought and Buddhism. To perform Calligraphy harmoniously and balanced, one must reach a “no mind state” (無心(むしん)) (Mushin).

This is a state in which the individual is freed from hesitation and doubt, allowing the writer to create a beautiful character using little effort, yet with fluidity and spiritual grace. Everything from the lines, space and points matter.

Among this rules of this art, it is crucial to respect the correct stroke order. A Japanese character cannot be written arbitrarily. In a way, the practice of Japanese calligraphy is a very effective way to steady your understanding of Kanji.

Throughout the years, Japanese calligraphy has since grown and developed into various styles, with these three styles forming the base:

楷書かいしょ): Meaning: the “correct writing way”, this square style of writing is similar to the Japanese printed version. The characters are correctly and clearly written, making them familiar to all readers. Beginners start with this form of Calligraphy.

Japanese calligraphy
Japanese calligraphy

行書(ぎょうしょ): “The traveling writing” (Aka Semi-cursive) is a cursive handwriting style. This style of writing is more visually pleasing than “correct way writing”.

However, most people who are able to read the “correct writing way” style can also read this.

Japanese calligraphy

草書: A graceful style focusing on beauty over comprehension, called “rough script”. The best English translation for this style of calligraphy would be cursive.

This style of writing is meant to be fast and efficient, and an untrained reader will most likely not be able to recognize the Kanji in this style of calligraphy.

Japanese calligraphy
Japanese calligraphy

Tools commonly used in Calligraphy

The brushes, made from animal hairs, come in various sizes:

  • ふで:brush
  • 小筆こふで:small brush
  • 大筆おおふで:big brush

Traditionally, an ink stick (すみ) would be used, however, it is now easier to use bottled ink, called 墨液(ぼくえき). The ink is poured into what is called an ink-stone, (すずり). Calligraphy is made on a special paper called 和紙(わし), often referred to abroad as “Japanese paper”.

The paper is placed on a cloth, 下敷(したじ)き, held by a paperweight, 文鎮(ぶんちん). Calligraphers often use their own personal seals ((しるし)) to sign their calligraphy.

Japanese calligraphy
Things Needed for Japanese calligraphy

Japanese Calligraphy and Tea Ceremony

Did you know? At the beginning of a tea ceremony, 茶道(さどう), the participants look at, admire, and meditate on calligraphy. The absorbed meditation is said to clear one’s mind and is a very important element of the ceremony.

Have a go at Calligraphy!

Mastering Japanese calligraphy takes years of practice, and children are encouraged to practice it from an early age. The calligrapher’s position, the way of holding the brush, and way of starting, continuing and ending a stroke, must obey the rules of calligraphy.

We encourage our students to discover more about this practice through a fascinating initiation with a professional calligrapher, Wakana Shingae. With years of training and experience, she is no doubt a great instructor!

  • Kanji: 星 海 愛
  • Wednesday, July 19
  • 12:40 – 13:50
  • Coto Japanese Academy 1F
  • 2500 yen
  • Up to 10 people
  • Instructor: Wakana Shingae

New to Japanese Calligraphy? Why not try writing out the Japanese Kanji Word: 改善 for yourself!
Want to find out more about Coto Japanese Academy? Try taking a look at the various Japanese Language Courses we offer!

Coto Japanese Academy is a unique Japanese Language School in Iidabashi Tokyo, we offer relaxed and fun conversational lessons for all levels of Japanese learner. Coto Japanese Academy prides itself on its community atmosphere and fun lessons that focus on creation of opportunities to speak and learn Japanese. If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo – please visit our contact page here.

Test your Japanese level!

Do a self-test to see which course fits you.

Check your level