What is Calligraphy?

Calligraphy (shodo: "the way of writing") is the art of writing beautifully. Most children learn calligraphy in elementary school. It is a popular hobby for adults, too.

A calligraphy set consists of:

Shodo is the Japanese word for Calligraphy. It means not just penmanship, but the Way or the Path of writing. In China and Japan, Shodo has long been regarded as one of the most important forms of art. The Japanese have two sets of characters for writing sounds. Hiragana have rounded strokes, while Katakana use mostly straight lines. Katakana are used mainly to write words borrowed from other languages and names of foreign people and places as well as to denote sounds and cries of animals

Kanji is the Japanese word for the written characters that are said to have been created in China several thousand years ago, though nobody knows exactly where or when. The way kanji got started was from pictures people drew. Over a long period of time the shape of the pictures changed, and so most of them no longer look like the original objects. But they still stand for whole words or parts of words. here are many thousands of them; one big dictionary has about 50,000. But people don't actually use that many. There are about 2,000 of them on the list the government has drawn up for regular use. Elementary school children learn 1,006 by the end of sixth grade. Middle school students learn to write sentences with these 1,006 and learn to read another 939.

Japanese character-writing has two stages. First, a student gets acquainted with the tools and learns a basic technique for handling them; this is the SHUJI stage. When he has this technique and can write freely various letters, he goes on to a deeper,more artistic level, SHODO. Every student must understand the history and proper use of the calligrapher's tools. As the calligraphic styles evolved over the centuries, calligraphers struggled, to refine their techniques and through trial and error have brought Shodo to the present high level of achievement. The traditions of Wang Hsi-chin, Ou-yang Hsun, the Han Clerical styles, and the Six Dynasty styles were all created from these crucibles of experience. It has become standard practice to study these techniques in order to become a full-fledged calligrapher.

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As I watched young children practice their writing, I was reminded of what an old Chinese calligrapher, I met in China said about his art. "I always meditate a few minutes before picking up the brush. This clears my mind of worldly things and then I visualized the character on the page in it's finished state. Then I simply traced over the image I see in my mind. " I videotaped a jr. high student as he began to create a character and I saw him take a big breath , then stare at the paper , take another breath and began his first stroke with a very steady hand. You might remember this technique if decide to let your students try.

 Looks like the students did better with the lesson than
the teachers in our group. That didn't surprise any of us!!

Because they have so many characters to learn, children master brush techniques at an early age. I remembered that when I saw small 4x5 self-portrait ink paintings in the art class completed by
4 th and 5 th graders. Their fine motor skills are highly developed by the jr. high grades and their art work reflects that. In the three calligraphy classes I observed, no one spilled the ink. If my very young art students were given the same materials, I am sure we would have several accidents.


Japanese Calligraphy
Kanji Calligraphy
Works of Mukon Ohmori
History of Japanese Calligraphy
Kakejiku (hanging scroll) are paintings or calligraphy mounted with strips of luxurious fabric on flexible backing paper so that it can be rolled up for storage. Since the Muroachi period (1333-1568),Kakejiku have been the major artwork placed in the Tokonoma.
Sensu (Japanese folding fans) are traditional accessories carried by both men and women. Originating in Kyoto in the seventh century (670 A.D.),they are made of just bamboo and paper. Those made of white paper are usually decorated with painted or printed design or calligraphy.
Shodou's Room
Quicktime movies of the process if you have time to download.
The Brush is Mightier than the Pen
A short essay from the Asahi Evening News on the Bureau of Decoration and calligraphy's significance in the governance of Japan.
Sako Yanase show Reagan Students(Primary Class) Japanese Calligraphy
Sako is a college student from Japan attending the University of Mary Hardin Baylor.
Japanese Calligraphy Class
Students and teachers can learn by mail.
Student Calligraphy Club-Working large!!
Eri Takase. I am an artist specializing in Japanese Calligraphy.
Your Name in Japanese
The Diplomas of Ryoma Elementary School
Every year the sixth graders of Ryoma Elementary School in Yoshino, Japan make their own diplomas. As befitting an important paper making area, the student make their diplomas starting in the Kozo field.


Calligraphy is an art form that has been studied for over three thousand years. A knowledge of calligraphy is an important step in the understanding of Japanese culture. Calligraphy is not merely an exercise in good handwriting, but rather the foremost art form of the Orient. It is the combination of the skill and imagination of the person who has studied intensely the combinations available using only lines. In the West, calligraphy was intended to suppress individuality and produce a uniform style. Japanese calligraphy (sho in Japanese) attempts to bring words to life, and endow them with character. Styles are highly individualistic, differing from person to person. Japanese calligraphy presents a problem for westerners trying to understand it; the work is completed in a matter of seconds so the uninitiated cannot really appreciate the degree of difficulty involved. However, bear in mind that the characters must be written only once. There is no altering, touching up, or adding to them afterwards.

 Look up your Japanese name  


Some of this is from the web site listed below. Pictures are.

 Copyrighted by Bettie Lake,1998


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