Don’t jump to any conclusions about calligraphy just yet. Whatever it is, this article will change your mind! It doesn’t matter if you’re the last person on Earth to be doing any sort of art. You’re not doing calligraphy for art, but for learning Japanese!
There might not be a direct link in your mind just yet. Books are for learning — how can an art form be useful in terms of improving your Japanese? Well, just like how Netflix can improve one’s Japanese ability, so can calligraphy! Both are unorthodox ways of language-learning, but if you do it right, you will beat the norm of language education and master the fun methods of going about them!
Enough talk about if calligraphy will help and move on to how calligraphy will help improve your Japanese! Let’s take a look at what calligraphy really is, how it relates to Japanese culture and ways to go about making calligraphy work for your Japanese language-learning!
What is Calligraphy?
Before we get into it, let’s break down what calligraphy actually means. Calligraphy is a visual art form, particularly related to writing. It is more of decorative handwriting usually produced with a broad-tip tool like a pen or brush.
Just like how every individual’s handwriting gives the one writing a unique insight into their personality, calligraphy is like giving these standard characters and alphabets a special form in a more elaborate and expressive manner.
Calligraphy has its roots in ancient history. Dozens of cultures, not only the Japanese culture, have some form of calligraphy in them. Because each culture’s calligraphy form differs from the other, it’s easy enough to figure out which calligraphy is whose. That’s the beauty of this art form.
Even being an ancient practice and art, calligraphy has remained a strong influence in today’s modern society. Calligraphy is present in all sorts of things, everything from the modern designs and paintings to preserving the ancient craft with classes educating on them.
Calligraphy in Japanese Culture
Even though calligraphy is present all throughout the world, it has a special significance in Japanese culture. To the Japanese, it is not only an art form but it is also a means of communication as well as a Zen practice — evoking wisdom and harmony just like the entirety of Zen itself. Japanese calligraphy is known as shodo (書道), translating to “the way of writing”.
Calligraphy skills can be passed down from generation to generation, preserving the authenticity and skill from the first generation when it was first introduced in the sixth to the seventh century. Even though the practice of calligraphy in Japan originated in China, just like how the kanji (漢字) characters are borrowed from them as well, the Japanese calligraphy developed their own unique touches throughout the centuries.
The basics of Japanese calligraphy are with the use of a bamboo brush dipped in sumi (墨) ink — a type of ink made from perfume, animal glue, and pine tree soot. There is an emphasis on beauty and balance in Japanese calligraphy. Each brushstroke is like a meditative and spiritual offering, similar to other aspects of Japanese culture like the Japanese tea ceremonies and Japanese flower arrangement art.
Styles of Japanese Calligraphy
Kaisho style of calligraphy is the regular, block-style script. The “kai” (楷) in “kaisho” holds the meaning of “correctness”. Those who go to shodo school (a school specializing in educating the Japanese calligraphy) start off by learning this style of calligraphy. The block style is known as the basics of Japanese calligraphy — much like a foundation. There is an order for every stroke and has to be perfectly executed.
The second style of calligraphy is the gyosho, which is the moving style — a perfect description of the technique used for this style of calligraphy. Gyosho is more of a semi-cursive script and is less formal than the kaisho, focusing on the fluidity and free motion of the brushstrokes. Once the brush touches the paper, the calligrapher won’t leave the paper until the very end. It’s all in one stroke with the intention to continue to the next character. This style of Japanese calligraphy often opens up more creative expressions for calligraphy artists.
Last but definitely not least, there is the sosho calligraphy style which is the cursive Japanese calligraphy. This is arguably the most difficult style of calligraphy. The literal translation of sosho is “grass script” and this style has the effect of grass blowing in the wind where the characters flow into each other. Don’t be surprised to see some strokes eliminated from some characters — that’s to create the smooth writing. You can sosho calligraphy in abstract Japanese art, especially Zen art, where energy is transmitted into the works.
How Can Calligraphy Improve Japanese?
How can an art form such as Japanese calligraphy help in one’s Japanese language ability? Well, there are a few ways calligraphy can improve your Japanese solely because it’s an art form! Here are the top ways calligraphy can be your ultimate language learning aid for your Japanese studies!
If — and when — you pick up calligraphy to improve your Japanese, there will be numerous times where you are faced with words and kanji characters that you have not seen before. Naturally, you’ll get curious about it and its meaning, and then look it up. At the end of the day, you’ll be exposed to more Japanese words and kanji characters just through picking up Japanese calligraphy!
There’s the saying “a picture speaks a thousand words”. Japanese calligraphy art creates pictures and visuals of various Japanese words — be it in hiragana, katakana or kanji, that doesn’t really matter. Your brain is more prone to absorb and process information through a visual form like pictures, and you’re more likely to remember the new things you learn because of the visual learning aspect of Japanese calligraphy!
Repetition in Writing
Of course, no one starts off as an expert. When you first get into Japanese calligraphy, you’ll find yourself repeating the same characters and words over and over again to master the brushstrokes and form. There’s this notion of repetition, and we all are aware that repetition is key when it comes to learning something new. Through calligraphy, you’re bound to memorize the ways to write a kanji character and eventually recognise it when you’re out and about in Japan. Imagine doing that for quite some time for a lot of Japanese words and kanji characters — you’ll be a pro in no time!
Who would’ve thought that something as intricate as calligraphy can be a fun way of improving your Japanese! You don’t have to be an artist to take up Japanese calligraphy as a hobby, especially if your main intention is for it to be a learning tool for your Japanese language learning. Look at it this way: not only will your Japanese language ability improve, but you also picked up a new skill that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s a win-win, in my opinion!