Japanese Calligraphy

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“Language becomes music through the flowing pen of Arthur Baker’s calm and facile hand” (Baker 1). This is an extract from Arthur Baker’s book which tries to show how calligraphy brings life to writings. Calligraphy has been in existence for a long time, especially among the Chinese and the Japanese. It is believed that calligraphy brings out humor or emotions in writing which otherwise would not be brought out in plain writing. With the relayed information, this paper is going to analyze the history, development, and contributions of Japanese calligraphy.

In modern times, calligraphy is used as a form of expression. Most times people consider it and graffiti to be the same thing. Calligraphy has been recently mostly utilized by young people as a form of expression, while graffiti is still mostly used by young people as a form of rebelliousness in pursuit of self-expression. In modern days, calligraphy is used in writing invitations for weddings or other events. This helps to achieve the fun bit of the message, as well as pass the message across. For such incidents when one expects fun and happy times, the use of calligraphy helps to achieve both. In turn, calligraphy in Japan and China is evaluated very highly. In the olden days, only the elite in the society would study calligraphy. The upper class in the society, aristocrats, and samurais were allowed to study calligraphy in Japan. According to the Japanese calligraphers, this art of writing is not only used as a form of writing but also helps to gain some values in life such as humility and patience, as well as allowing to gain inner peace and achieve tranquility in one’s life. Most the prominent and renowned calligraphers in Japan feel that it is a way of making sure that their culture would not get lost, but would be passed on to the next generation. Some teachers believe that to teach learners this unique art, the learners have to first learn the history of Japanese calligraphy before learning the actual art of writing. Calligraphy can be described as a form of visual art, which is in the form of writing. This is done by use of pens or broad tip instruments to execute and design letters in a skillful manner. Calligraphy applies when one is writing an invitation for events and logos for companies or wants to express a certain kind of emotion through the writing. For the Japanese, calligraphy has been used for a long time and was used as the basis of their writing systems. The first instance of any writing in Japan was in the form of calligraphy, which was only used for religious purposes. This was written in bones by using shaped objects. Japanese calligraphy is one of the most prominent areas of study when it comes to calligraphy. Japan adopted the use of calligraphy in the early centuries and it has been evolving there over time.

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History and Development of Japanese Calligraphy

When talking about Japanese calligraphy, one cannot fail to mention efforts of Chinese calligraphy since Japanese calligraphy emerged from it. For one to fully understand history and development of Japanese calligraphy, it is necessary first to understand what exactly Chinese calligraphy is. Chinese calligraphy is an art that was usually passed from one generation to another through copying of masterpieces with the help of skilled teachers of calligraphy. This process of teaching the art was called Rinsho, which means writing and facing. This meant the learners were to look at what teachers were doing and then had to replicate it in their work until they fully grasped the art of calligraphy. In the early stages when Chinese calligraphy was starting to develop, the primary type of calligraphy that was used was the Shakyo, which means copying of sutra texts. Sutra is the type of calligraphy that does not allow the use of seals even in modern times. It is during this time that Japanese calligraphy emerged.

The first calligraphy syllabary to be used was the Hiragana and then it was surpassed by the Katakana, which was a shorthand that was mostly used by Buddhist monks. Buddhist monks are people responsible for the preservation and retention of the Buddha temple and teachings. They used the Katakana for writing religious teachings and scripts. They also taught people the knowledge of calligraphy.

Japanese calligraphy, which is otherwise known as Shodo, has been in existence since the 4th century. The early Japanese calligraphy was coined from the Chinese calligraphy, which had been in existence for some time before the formation of Shodo. Shodo can be described as the form of writing in Japanese or an artistic form of writing. One of the most influential calligraphers in Japan was Wang Xizhi who lived after the invention of unique writing systems and unique syllabaries (Sato? et al. 53-73). The unique syllabaries are known as Katakana and Hiragana. These two syllabaries have formed the basis of Japanese calligraphy. It is from these two syllabaries that different calligraphers emerged. After the unique writing system had been set up in Japan, there emerged more calligraphers since they would play around with the syllabaries to come up with new ways of enhancing the existing Japanese calligraphy (Sato? et al. 53-73).

During those days, there were some distinct tools that were used in calligraphy as far as Japanese calligraphy was concerned. The tools were regarded as the four treasures of the study in Japanese. This name was given since these tools were the only ones that could be used in calligraphy and were not owned by many people. These four tools included mulberry paper, a brush, an inkstone, and an ink brush. These were the main tools in Japanese calligraphy and other tools that were used in the process were a seal, a paperweight, and a cloth. The brushes brittle were supposed to be made from animal hair such as goats or horsehair. This was because animal hairs are soft and they make work look neat. The longer the ink brush had been in work, the better it would write. An ink brush that had been in use between 50 to 100 years was said to be the best brush to use. An inkstone was used together with water to grind the ink stick against it. The paperweight was used to hold the paper in place during the process of writing. The paper is usually light and sometimes can move while working. A cloth was used to prevent the ink from flowing to avoid a messy job. The seal, which was used as a stencil back then, was used to enable the calligrapher or students to engrave writings without writing them wrongly. A seal was used to basically help in shaping the syllabaries properly. Calligraphers, especially students, were advised to use their own seals so as to encourage authenticity. The seal was however not used in all calligraphy tasks as, for instance, the sutra calligraphy did not allow the use of seals.

The process of preparation and doing the calligraphy takes a lot of time, hence needing a lot of patience. This was regarded by some Japanese as the act of teaching patience and teaching the virtue of achieving perfection. For beginners, they were encouraged to make their own ink as this would help them cover all the areas of calligraphy. In the modern days, people have come up with an already made ink, which is called Bokuju that helps to save time. Making one’s ink includes pouring water on the ink stone and then grinding the ink stick on the ink stone with the dry ink to make it liquid (Ryuurui 14-31).

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Roots of Japanese calligraphy can be traced to the 28th century BC when pictures were the main mode of writing. During this time, pictures were drawn or inscribed on bones for religious use. Over time, Li Si who was the prime minister of the Qin dynasty felt the need to come up with a well laid out script since calligraphy had been adopted for writing papers on official matters. He commissioned a group of people to come up with a standardized script that would help bring uniformity in the writing (Sato? et al. 96-168). The commission was also to come up with a way of how writings would be written. Li Si came up with rules of composition and the standard size of strokes that were to be in use. This helped form the basics of the Japanese calligraphy and bring about uniformity in writing. During Li Si’s times, calligraphy was carried out by use of sharp objects since writings were on bones (Sato? et al. 96-168). This helped strokes acquire an angular shape. With time, this became extinct due to the invention of the brush and the ink stick. With the use of the brush, strokes could acquire a certain curve and different variations of thickness. Although Japanese calligraphy has evolved over time, writers and calligraphers have maintained the block form of strokes that was put forth by Li Si. Calligraphers are allowed to explore different styles of writing, but they have to keep in mind the basics of calligraphy. The calligrapher’s style was used to help pass the message across. Different writers used different styles to pass across their intended message through their artwork.

It is during the late 9th and 10th centuries that the history of Japanese calligraphy made remarkable changes or evolved. This was called the Heian period during the era of three brush traces. Three brush traces is a synonym for three prominent Japanese calligraphers of the Heian period. These three calligraphers are Ono no Michikaze who lived between 896 and 966, Fujiwara no Sukemasa who lived between 944 and 998, and Fujiwara no Yukinari who lived between 972 and 1027. Michikaze made remarkable contributions in the Heian period where he fully developed Japanese calligraphy, which goes by the name Wayo Shodo. Many consider him to be the founder of Japanese calligraphy (Ryuurui 11). The Wayo Shodo calligraphy style was only taught to rich people in the society. During that time, only upper-class people in society would afford education. That is why the Wayo Shodo was referred to as education for the upper class (Ryuurui 10-12). The Wayo Shodo calligraphy style is said to be a response or was a result of the increasing need to express oneself in the form of calligraphy. As the years went by, people increasingly felt the need to evolve the existing calligraphy as it was not fully expressing their artistic expressiveness. This style is said to have been initiated by the rich and the upper class in the society (Ryuurui 10-12).

The Wayo Shodo came about as a result of a grammatical difference between Chinese and Japanese people (Sato? et al. 109-143). As it has been earlier noted, Japanese calligraphy emerged from Chinese calligraphy. This explains why most of Japanese calligraphy is intertwined with the Chinese one. Having said that, one needs to understand the difference in the culture and grammar for the two forced the need to come up with a different style of calligraphy to meet needs of the Japanese (Sato? et al. 109-143). The Wayo Shodo was borrowed from Chinese calligraphy. The changes were inevitable since some of the prefixes that were used in Chinese calligraphy brought out a different meaning when used in Japanese calligraphy. Hence, Chinese writing styles were changed in order to fit Japanese writing systems (Sato? et al. 109-143).

What Does Japanese Calligraphy Mean to You?

After studying the history and development of Japanese calligraphy, my way of viewing things has completely changed. I can proudly say that Japanese calligraphy has brought a new meaning and a deeper understanding on the need to preserve culture. Additionally, I have come to appreciate and respect contemporary art. This is based on the fact that modern art practiced springs from traditional art. A good example is graffiti, an artistic form of writing that evolved from calligraphy. This shows that the origin of art is very valuable and something which should be respected and upheld.

Moreover, from this study, it has evident that Japanese and Chinese people have been able to preserve this unique calligraphy since the early centuries. Earlier in this essay, I have stated that this calligraphy was passed from one generation to another. This shows how the Japanese are keen on preserving the culture and their teachings through calligraphy. Although calligraphy has been changed in some ways, they still maintain the core styles of this writing. Japanese and Chinese calligraphy has become popular to the extent it is being used all over the world to pass the message. Although it has not been adopted informal writing, it is the most used informal writing in the contemporary world to express oneself. Nowadays, calligraphy is a way that one can achieve passing a formal message in a fun and joyous way. For example, in modern days no one uses formal writing such as Times New Roman to write a wedding or birthday invite any more. This is due to the fact that calligraphy, which is fun, can be used to achieve the same.

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From the study of Japanese calligraphy, I have been able to learn about the art of patience. Although calligraphy in the modern world is seen to be something casual or a thing of passing time, in the Japanese world there is nothing casual about this art of writing. The process from the point of making your ink to carefully painting letters until they come out right needs a lot of time and patience. Therefore, Japanese calligraphy has taught me the virtue of patience in art. I have come to terms that most artistic objects take time and a lot of perseverance so that they can become master pieces. This is linked to Buddhist monks who are known to be the holiest and most patient people in the whole world. At the same time, these monks were main teachers who used to pass the knowledge of Japanese calligraphy from one generation to another. This shows that Japanese calligraphy was not only used as a form of writing, but also it had a deeper meaning to teach other virtues of life. Although Wayo Shodo was only for the rich and affluent in the society, in the long run this form of writing became accessible to everyone with time. This helped everyone in the Japanese nation to be in a position to acquire virtues and the art of writing that is beautiful calligraphy.

Japanese calligraphy is not only beautiful, but also possesses a philosophical sense and sacral values. Each word is carefully handwritten by use of paint and brush and beautifully comes out as a piece of art. Tools used in Japanese calligraphy are so simple, a brush made from bamboo and white rice paper, but the handy work that comes from these simple materials is very rich. This can be used symbolically to illustrate the value of not judging a thing or a person from their physical looks or appearances. If such simple tools can be used to achieve something so beautiful, people can do that as well. Japanese people believe that calligraphy possesses power that can charge them. This is because letters that face the East are said to symbolize the epistle of the heavens. This shows that Japanese calligraphy carries some sacral values in their culture. Some people believe that calligraphy is a source of happiness, joy, success, and creativity. That is the reason some people join the monk society in search of their true self and happiness. Many people that join monks say that they did it because they needed to find the true meaning of happiness and life. When they go to these temples, they are taught different things, including Japanese calligraphy among them. During this time, they cultivate the art of patience and appreciation of simple things in life.

One of the Zen practices is the writing of Japanese calligraphy. Calligraphy is written on white cloth with the use of black paint. In the Japanese culture, this signifies emptiness in the Zen practices, while the black paint symbolizes human life. This shows that the Japanese calligraphy is not only used as a form of writing, but holds a deeper meaning to the Japanese culture. Calligraphy is used by Japanese people to help learn eternal truths according to the Zen philosophies. The art of fighting was also incorporated in the Zen practices, as well as the art of calligraphy. Names of masters of fights or rather winners were written in Japanese calligraphy, which made them feel proud and honored. This shows that Japanese calligraphy was highly appreciated in the society. Studying calligraphy was termed or seen as something very prestigious in the society in the olden days since only samurais and aristocrats were allowed to study this prestigious art of writing (Tanahashi 104-120).

What Do You Think that You Can Learn from Japanese Calligraphy?

One can learn a lot from Japanese calligraphy since in some way one is learning the Japanese culture. By learning Japanese calligraphy, I have learned the culture as well. This has made me a diverse individual by the fact that I have been able to learn practices of another culture. Japan and China are some of the countries that are known to have maintained their original culture without adopting modernization.

Although the study of Japanese calligraphy has been diminishing over time, Japanese people have been trying to bring it back in primary schools. This was noted by the government after they noticed that if some actions were not taken, Japanese calligraphy would become extinct. According to the government, this is used to teach children the virtue of discipline and patience, as well as help them cultivate their interest in culture. With the advancement in technology and emergence of different ideologies, it is very easy for children not to learn their culture. The fact that the Japanese government noticed this before it was too late is a recommendable job. Through the incorporation of Japanese calligraphy in the syllabus, children will be able to learn about their forefathers and how they lived and understand why this particular art of writing was held highly in society. Through this, I have learned the need to maintain one’s culture. A person’s roots and culture are very important since it helps one appreciate oneself and feel pride in their culture. When a person understands their culture and origin, they are able to pass it to the next generation and in the process help to maintain them.

I have also learned that Japanese calligraphy was used as a form of achieving tranquility and inner peace. These aspects have been aimed at enriching the healthy life of individuals so that the quality of their lives is increased with each passing day. A unique thing about Japanese calligraphy is that it is not limited to a certain age or races. The art of writing is open to all people from different walks of life. This shows the humility common for Japanese people. Although they have this rich culture which intrigues people from different corners of the globe, they do not close it to themselves as they share it with the whole world. Different people of all ages and walks of life seek to learn Japanese in the quest of achieving inner peace. Different people have noted that while studying Japanese calligraphy, they have been able to achieve a certain level of inner peace and rediscover themselves. People from the affluent and high class in the society have taken up the study of this unique art of writing in order to rediscover themselves and achieve tranquility since most of them felt like something was missing in their lives.

Many people use Japanese calligraphy as a form of meditation. An excellent example is from a calligrapher named Mariko Kinoshita from a report taken by Naoko Moriya, working for a Japanese Newspaper called Yomiuri Shimbun. Kinoshita notes that one of the most appealing qualities that she has encountered in the journey of calligraphy writing is the meditation aspect (Moriya). She notes that writing the unique syllabary helps her gain some level of composure while feeling uneasy or in distress. She also notes that some people that she has taught can also attest to the same thing. Kinoshita recommends the art of calligraphy for people who have a hectic life since it will help them gain a certain level of peace. She also adds that one does not need to do a lot of this writing to achieve the level of peace. She notes that just a page of this art of writing before going to bed can help one gain balance and composure (Moriya).

Another unique thing about Japanese calligraphy is the fact that one does not entirely finish studying it. According to the report given by Naoko Moriya, she started reading and studying Japanese calligraphy when she was six years old. She has been studying this art since then and is not about to stop. She advises beginners first to start with the basics, which is Japanese and ancient Chinese syllabary as this will help them fully grasp the concept of this unique art. She also advises students not to be in a hurry when learning Japanese calligraphy since they will end up being frustrated. She ensures that learners should know the background of Japanese calligraphy and understanding why the ancient writing system is no longer used as much. This will help learners understand and get a feeling of the ancient times. This is perceived as a way of passing the culture to the people. Kinoshita has a unique way of siting while demonstrating or teaching learners, which helps create a serious atmosphere. This shows that Kinoshita appreciates Japanese calligraphy very highly (Moriya).

Often, the art of calligraphy has been said to be an art that is used to express oneself or gain a certain level of freedom. In the quest of making Japanese calligraphy more lively and fun for learners and other people, big brush calligraphy performance has been incorporated in Japan. This is whereby a group of students or people gathers together to write music played as performance. The leader of the group signals the rest when to start writing the music. As soon as the music starts, the leader prompts them to start. The rest of the group starts to write calligraphy using a brush, which explains the name of big brush performance. This performance was introduced by a teacher that goes by the name teacher Hiroko about 10 years ago in Japan. The teacher stated that she had introduced this aspect to help the world understand how extraordinary Japanese culture was and, just as she said, the performance has drawn attention all over the world. The big brush performances has since gained fame to the extent that the club performed during the 2012 sendoff party to the Japanese delegation that would participate in the London Olympics.

With the advancement in technology, a professor named Seiichiro Katsura has been able to create a robot that can replicate the handy work of calligraphers. The robot records information and the angle that calligraphers take while drawing and then processes it. The robot was able to accurately replicate kanji for flower in grass script that was created by a calligrapher known as Juho. The calligrapher writes the script with the robot attached to him as it records the information and then later it is allowed to replicate the information that it recorded. Through this, I have learnt that people do not have to forego their ancient culture or practices just because they have become modernized. People can always try to come up with ways to incorporate the two. Through the invention of this robot, one can confidently say that maintaining one’s culture and practices is not hard just because the world has become modernized.

Through this study, it has become very evident that the Japanese population takes much pride in their culture. Throughout the entire history, the Japanese people have tried to maintain the culture of calligraphy by all means. This shows that they are proud of their culture and will do all it takes to maintain it. It ought to be noted that the art of Japanese calligraphy has been passed from one generation to another. This proves that they have been keen in their culture since the early days. One can also see the importance of doing this as there is a lot of available information on the issue, which would not be the case if the Japanese failed to maintain their culture.

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Japanese calligraphy has evolved over the centuries. In the beginning, this art was only used for religious purposes and was inscribed on bones with the help of shaped objects. Since then, it has evolved from being used by the rich and affluent in society to being used by different people from all over the world. In the early years of development, Japanese calligraphy was only used as a form of communication and writing of important matters. It has since changed in such a way that people learn calligraphy to have attractive handwriting. Japanese calligraphy serves a lot of purposes such as maintaining the Japanese culture, helping people rediscover themselves, attaining inner peace, and achieving tranquility. Many people have abandoned their luxurious lives just to study Japanese calligraphy in the quest of finding themselves. Obviously, Japanese calligraphy should be incorporated in the education system as a minor subject that people can take up and explore other uses of the art. People should be able to emulate Japanese people on how they uphold their culture and take pride in it. With the changing world, people find it hard to maintain their culture, as well as keeping up with the changing world. Japan has shown that it is possible to incorporate the two without necessarily losing either of them. For instance, the Japanese associate professor has been able to use technology in making a robot that can replicate calligraphy by storing information.

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