Mainichi Shodo Exhibition

The traditional art of calligraphy

The traditional art of calligraphy

Chinese characters were first introduced to Japan from China about 2000 years ago, around the time that Jesus Christ was born. From Chinese characters Japanese eventually formulated their own two phonetic scripts, known collectively as kana, which are still used in combination with Chinese characters to write modern Japanese.
Japanese was originally written using a brush and ink, and since the earliest objects of writing were poetry and Buddhist scriptures, the elegance of the brushwork came to be of utmost concern.
Men and women who were especially talented at writing came to be known as shoka, or writers of sho (calligraphy), and before long calligraphy developed into an art form in its own right.

Seven categories of calligraphic works

The modernization that followed Japan’s defeat in war 70 years ago, ushered in a new era for calligraphy. New forms of writing were sought to replace outdated ones, and modern genres were pioneered in quick succession.We can count seven main calligraphy genres in Japan now.

The implements of calligraphy

The brush, ink, inkstone and paper traditionally referred to as the “Four treasures of writing,” but there are in fact many more items that calligraphers use for the enjoyment of their art.


1. fude Brushes. Calligraphy brushes are made by bundling together animal hairs. Mainly those of the sheep, the rabbit, or the weasel. A calligrapher chooses the type of brush he or she will use according to the calligraphy to be drawn.
2. sumi Ink. The ink that is used for Japanese calligraphy is made by taking the soot that forms when vegetable-derived oil or pine wood is burned and adding animal glue to harden it.
It is most commonly black, but you can also obtain ink in which red or blue has been mixed, as well as pure gold, silver or cinnabar inks.
3. suzuri Ink stone. Water is poured onto the inkstone and the ink stick is rubbed with water to make ink of the desired consistency.
4. kami Paper. Hand-made papers developed in China or Japan are used, including decorative papers with printed, painted or transparent designs.
5. bunchin Heavy objects used to hold the paper down
6. hitto Stand for the brushes
7. suiteki Water pourer for making ink
8. inzai Stones for carved seals
9. indei Seal ink, made by adding oil and ground mugwort to cinnabar ink