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What is Shodo?

What does Shodo mean?

Shodo is Japanese calligraphic art.The direct English translation for Shodo is "The Way of Writing". It is considered one of Japan's traditional cultural arts. Sado (Japanese tea ceremony), Kado (Japanese flower arrangement) and Budo(Japanese martial arts) are also well-known cutural arts of Japan. Children in Japan learn Shodo at school, but as with other traditional cultural arts, it takes a long time and a lot of practice to master the art of Shodo.

What do you write in Shodo?

As with other cultural arts, learning Shodo starts with imitating the Master's Art. Children at school imitate the Shodo textbook, children who take Shodo lessons imitate their teacher's work. Advanced Artists imitate the works of Great Shodo Artists from centuries ago.

Imitating the great works of the past is called Rinsho, and is one form of artistic expression in Shodo. This may sound strange to you, but think about classical music; people today play the works of Beethoven and Mozart, which is considered a form of artistic expression rather than "copying" someone's art.

With enough experience of Rinsho of different works and different Artists, you are ready to add your creativity to Shodo. Some artists create Art inspired by the great works from the past, while others create unique styles.

Different Types of Characters for Writing

The main difference between Shodo(Japanese Calligraphy) and Chinese Calligraphy is that Japanese Calligraphy has multiple types of characters for writing compared to Chinese Calligraphy.

In Shodo, there are mainly three types of characters;

Kanji (Chinese Characters)
These letters were imported from China around the 3rd century. As Buddhism came in from China and Korea around the 6th century, Kanji became more important in order to read and write the Sutra. Kanji was also arranged and used to express the Japanese language because Japanese did not have a form of writing before that time.
Each Kanji has a meaning in itself, and could have multiple ways to pronounce the letter. The letters are used in combination to express words, phrases and sentences. Over the years, details of some of the characters have changed, but even today, Chinese characters used in Japanese are same as what are used in Chinese.

The main themes of Kanji Shodo Art are copying the
Copying of the Sutra of Buddhism
in gold ink on dark blue paper
sutra of Buddhism, imitating the works of great Shodo Artists of China (which is called Rinsho), or creating original styles inspired by the great works of the past.

Kana (Japanese Characters)
Kana is similar to the alphabet, and they are phonetic letters. This was created in Japan around the 8th century after Kanji was adopted. The origin of Kana letters is cursive writing of Kanji, but you can hardly tell which Kanji letter was used for each Kana letter. Compared to Kanji, Kana is soft and feminine, and was mainly used by women or to write poems in the Heian era . Today, Kana (usually called Hiragana in modern Japanese) is widely used in the Japanese language, and is what children learn to read and write first.

The main theme of Kana Shodo Art is Rinsho of the poem books of the Heian era such as the "Kokin Waka Shu". This poem book is acutally a collection of more than 1100 pieces of Waka (poetry with a fixed form) selected by Kino Tsurayuki and others in the early 10th century.

Modern (Mixture of Kanji and Kana)
Today, we use both Kanji and Hiragana to express Japanese. Therefore, In Modern Shodo, modern Japanese phrases are often used as themes, and new ways of expression could be seen more than traditional ways of writing.

Themes of Modern Shodo could be phrases from a book, sayings by famous people, or simply words or phrases that you like.

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