There is a direct relationship between the search for perfection and the discipline and the enlightenment in Japan. The ancient masters always searched beauty and purity for enlightenment in shodo (the Japanese Calligraphy Art). There is a special Japanese tradition called “kakizome” 書き初め meaning “la first writing”. Every January 2nd a special work has to be made in shodo that will represent “the first writing of the year”. It may be a simple kanji, or part of a poem and it symbolizes what we wish and dream for the year starting.
Shodō 書道: Means “the appropriate way of writing” or “the writing enlightenment way”. It states that the writing method is not enough. The calligraphy should properly show the complete meaning a language has. It’s considered an art, and a very difficult discipline, very hard to master. It’s taught as an extra assignment for first school pupils in Japan. Each stroke has a established order and should be done that way. Japanese calligraphy has nothing to do with chance. Each line, each stroke has a starting, a direction, a shape and an ending. The exact balance of all these elements, even the empty spaces, has a profound meaning.
It’s also a meditation method and a simple concentration technique as we project our energy in while writing an ideogram, also called kanji. Shodo is both a technical and aesthetic discipline that mixes zen philosophy and wabi-sabi as the writer has to free his mind and get to a state where writing flows on it’s own, effortlessly to success and get the needed precision. It’s closely related to other disciplines as the tea ceremony, the Japanese painting technique, or even the flowers arrangement technique.
There are different calligraphic styles in which, among other things the usage of the space varies. Among them we can mention:
- Kaisho 楷書 : “formal or square” writing that comes from the sixth dynasty. This is is the most common and standard style. You always start learning this style of shodo strokes first and it helps the student to understand the correct kanji placement, the correct balance between left and right, up and down, black and white. Each stroke is predetermined and can be easily pointed as the brush lifts from the paper on each one of them.
- Gyosho 行書 : “semi handwriting” style. A bit more informal. In this style the strokes are more fluid, rounded and get together within each other sometimes.
- Sosho 草書 : “Handwriting” style. It allows the best stroke freedom. In this style the brush never lifts from the paper, producing a simple and abstract shape that not only transmits the kanji meaning but the feeling or mood the writer was at the moment of writ
- Tensho 篆書 : “Ancient” style writing. It’s used for the writing in the stamps (hanko) that are used as a signature (usually with red ink).
- Reisho 隷書 : “Legal” writing style. It’s a simpler and duller than Tensho. It can be seen used in old signs and on shop’s signs. You can recognize it because it’s flattened shape and it always stresses the brush strokes. There are to types: Korei (older) and Hanrei.
In Japanese calligraphy you work on ideograms derived from Chinese writing. You use a brush (made from bamboo and animal hair) called “fude” 筆 , you work on rice paper called “kami” 紙 or “washi” that is put over a felt mat called “shitajiki” 下敷 that is kept in place by a paperweight or or “bunchin”文鎮. Ink comes in a black solid bar called “sumi” 墨 and you prepare it by solving it in water in an inkwell or “suzuri” 硯 .
Writing in it’s three Japanese ways of writing: kanji (iconographic image of a concept), hiragana and katakana, is the best expression of artist’s sensibility and spirituality projected with his own strength, sureness and emotion.
Beside the final outcome, the brush movement held by the calligrapher master on it’s farthest part from paper and it’s position relative to the paper, are a complete discipline by themselves. It has to flow in a direct way from our inside, without meditation. This is something that you can achieve only when you get the freedom from the self awareness and knowing your own limitations.
There was another less known aspect of calligraphy besides what we know today. It was used for the transcription of holly text in general. That style was clearly different from profane calligraphy used by the court aristocracy in poetic or narrative texts, for instance.
The art of communicating taking into account both forms and contents lets us remember how valuable the written word is. Shodo practice aims not only to perfection the aspect of it, but its ultimate objective is to be able to reflect through it’s shapes the mood and thus express the soul beauty in it. It’s because of that it’s said from ancient times from this discipline that: “Shodō is the reflection of the soul”
文字書く人たち from Japan Letter Arts Forum on Vimeo.