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Shodo - Japanese calligraphy

Shodo (書道, shodō) is the Japanese art of calligraphy. Similar arts also exist in Korean culture (seoye), Vietnamese (thu pap), and especially in Chinese culture (shufa), the country from which Japan imported the writing system around 400 AD.

The philosophy of the shodo

The art of Japanese calligraphy has taken on a distinct nature from the other calligraphic arts of the Far East, mainly due to the influence of Zen thought. A shodo work is considered a work of art, like a painting, for example. Being made with a brush, there is no possibility of erasing or adjusting what the ink has traced, each mark can be more or less decisive, more or less fast, more or less subtle, and represents the soul of the calligrapher in the instant in which it was drawn. For every single piece of paper, the calligrapher has only one chance to create with the brush, he must concentrate and be fluid in execution. An expert eye notices any expression of nervousness and lack of confidence in an artist's work. What comes out on the paper is seen as a representation of the calligrapher's mood at the moment of execution. To become excellent shodo masters, the right way according to Zen philosophy is not continuous practice, but meditation that leads to "emptying" oneself, to free oneself from any disturbance that may be a nuisance during the realization of a work of calligraphy.
shodo artwork
In contemporary Japan, the shodo is an integral part of education and art. Many elementary and middle school children attend shodo classes, as shodo is seen as very positive for parents' education of their children. The shodo would help children and teenagers to increase their ability to concentrate. In high school, calligraphy is one of the choices between art subjects, along with music or painting. In many schools and universities there are also student shodo clubs.

Tools for practicing shodo

To practice the art of the shodo you need 4 fundamental tools, defined as the "four treasures of the shodo": Other tools often used are a paperweight (bunchin, 文鎮), a cloth that absorbs excess ink to be placed under the sheet (shitajiki, 下敷き), a container for water (suiteki, 水滴), a brush rest (fudeoki, 筆置き) and a brush holder (fudemaki, 筆撒き).
shodo master japanese calligraphy performance
shodo artist japanese calligraphy performance

Where to go to discover the art of shodo in Japan

Shodo museums

As this is, as mentioned, a work of art equated to painting, you will find numerous museums of calligraphy works throughout the country. Moreover, even in art museums not strictly related to calligraphy, it is quite common to find some works of shodo on display, as for example happens in the immense Tokyo National Museum of Ueno. However, keep in mind that it can be very difficult for a foreigner to fully appreciate this type of works, particularly if you have no knowledge of the Japanese writing system (or Chinese, from which the former derives) and of the Japanese language. In Tokyo we point out two museums. One is the Mitsuo Aida Museum inside the futuristic Tokyo International Forum (Tokyo Station area, which exhibits the works of poet and calligrapher Mitsuo Aida (1924-1991). Another is the Taito Japanese Calligraphy Museum (Ueno area). This is more of a calligraphy history museum than an art museum. The museum exhibit includes a whole range of historical artifacts that show changes over time in writing styles, from the earliest inscriptions on animal bones and turtle shells from the pre-Christian era to the kaisho print style, which is the current standard kanji character writing style.

Shodo lessons

A very popular interactive experience among tourists in Japan is to take a short introductory lesson on shodo practice, usually lasting a couple of hours. In this way you will have the opportunity to learn the basics of Japanese calligraphy, observe the execution of a shodo work, as well as try yourself to try your hand with brush and paper, under the guidance of a master.
shodo lesson in japan tokyo the introductory lesson for tourists with the teacher Hoyu Sakuma

Online shodo lesson directly from Japan

Master Hoyu Sakuma also offers online calligraphy lessons, all you need is a PC and a smartphone or tablet, using the Zoom software for video connection and the Zen Brush 2 app for practice. For more details visit this website.

Guided tours, activities and other things to do

If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to do something more than just visiting famous places and monuments, we suggest you to use Rakuten Travel Experiences.

How to use Rakuten Travel Experiences

Rakuten Travel is a very useful website to enrich your travel experience, especially if you are going solo or it's your first time in Japan.
Because of the language barrier (and more), in Japan it is very difficult to interact with the locals and to get off the tourist track.
Thanks to Rakuten Travel you can find a lot of interesting and sometimes unique guided tours and activities all over Japan (and not only in Japan), that you would otherwise never be able to enjoy.
But there's more: on Rakuten Travel you can also buy tickets for several famous attractions, events, transportation and other useful services for tourists. Last but not least, you can reserve a table in hundreds of restaurants.

Some examples

Take a look at Rakuten Travel Experiences

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