People in Japan learn shodo calligraphy from childhood in order to write beautiful characters. The brush—a traditional writing instrument—is very hard to use until one gets used to it. But by training many times, anyone can learn to express characters in his or her own unique way. As a high art, calligraphy works can be seen not only at exhibitions, but also in a variety of places, including signs, posters and apparel designs. Calligraphy performances, in which a work is completed before an audience while moving actively such as in a dance, are also getting popular.
Children at a calligraphy classroom smiling with their work in their hands (Cooperation with Hakushu Shodo Kai)
Improving by Writing Many Times
Elementary school girl making ink from sumi before taking up the brush (Cooperation with Hakushu Shodo Kai)
In the evening, boys and girls on the way back from elementary schools gather at a calligraphy classroom in Tokyo. After greeting their teacher politely, they begin to make ink by grating a small and firm sumi (ink stick) with water. Once they have nicely made the ink, they set a paper on the desk and start practicing. The children are taught that by sitting up straight in a good posture, and writing not only with their fingers but with their entire body, they can write good characters. All of the children’s works written through their earnest efforts are as if fully expressing their honest and energetic feelings on a paper.
Elementary school boy practicing his brushstrokes (Cooperation with Hakushu Shodo Kai)
Calligraphy was born in China and was transmitted to Japan around the 6th and 7th centuries. Unlike Chinese calligraphy only expressed by kanji (Chinese characters), Japanese calligraphy developed with the addition of a character element that only exists in Japan called the kana.
The writing instrument in calligraphy is a brush, which compactly bundles the hair of an animal such as a horse. The tip of the brush, when soaked with ink, is soft and elastic. Because its shape changes each time a line is drawn, children who are just starting out have difficulty imitating the model character written by their teacher. They improve by writing it many times.
Calligraphy exhibition that collected the works of children (Provided by Japan Calligraphy Education Foundation)
The writing technique of characters is not the only thing children gain through calligraphy training, which begins with greeting practice. By carefully looking at the teacher's example provided to them, children acquire the capacity to properly observe matters and have a broad viewpoint. By intently creating a work that cannot be erased or corrected, they cultivate endurance and the ability to concentrate on a single matter. In addition, it is said that the artistic sensibility unique to Japanese people—such as the dexterity of the hands which the Japanese are said to excel at, and the expression of the beauty that is felt from space where characters are not written—is also developed.
In Japanese elementary schools, there is a class called "Shuji (Penmanship)" in which children learn these basics of calligraphy.