What is Shodō, the Art of Japanese Calligraphy?

Discover the origins of shodō, plus the aesthetics and mindfulness behind this Japanese art form, with Rie Takeda

Shodō is the art of Japanese calligraphy. It’s a symbol of beauty. Shodō literally means “the path to artistic writing”. In Japanese, the word is formed by combining the ideograms for knowledge, technique and ancestral wisdom. Japan is fascinated by the art of writing.

Japanese artist and calligrapher Rie Takeda (@rietakeda) has practiced the art of shodō since she was five years old, and is now a professional calligrapher who works in Europe and Japan. She is also an experienced teacher, as you can see in this video in which she describes the origins of shodō and its relationship with mindfulness.

Get ready for inner peace.

Mushin is the practice of internal connection

Practiced and taught as a ritual, shodō invites artists to find the inner peace required to unite their body, mind and spirit in the creative process of writing. Achieving such mental tranquility brings you closer to a state of mushin: a clear and transparent mind.

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Practice meditation to calm the mind.

This relaxation technique generates gentle energy in the body, which you can pour onto the paper by writing with ink. This allows Japanese calligraphy to become a conscious meditation, in which body and mind unite to create a dance between your hand and the paper.

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Pour the gentle energy of meditation onto the paper.

Shodō styles

Traditional shodō has over twelve calligraphy styles and uses various techniques developed as Japanese naturally evolved. Renowned calligraphers created yet more styles over the past 3000 years. Their work reflects the political nature and aesthetic trends of ancient times. These same calligraphers often adapted shodō to their own artistic interests.

For Rie Takeda, the three essential styles of Japanese calligraphy are: kaisho (blocks), gyosho (half-italics), and sosho (italics) These styles are progressively more complex: school children learn shodō in art class and only practice kaisho or block style.

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Each style of calligraphy has its own history, meaning and technique.

Kaisho style

‘Kai’ means fundamental shape. It’s one of the most basic forms of Japanese calligraphy and is widely used in publishing, on printed materials and online: it’s the most common style and the easiest to read and learn. Kaisho has a clear, strong and powerful style with a unified structure.

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The word “fish” written in kaisho style.

Gyosho style

Gyosho is a semi-italic style, it comes from the term ‘gyo’ which means letting yourself go. It was created using the shoing writing style and developed between 206 BC to 220 AD. It avoids heavy angles and straight lines and uses a gentle, rounded technique. Gyosho style allows you to create a feeling of warmth and openness, and to move your hand freely over the canvas.

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The word “fish” written in gyosho style.

Sosho style

Sosho is the italic style. The word refers to the movement and lightness of grass. Originally created in the 3rd century as an abbreviated style for quick writing, sosho was enriched with an aesthetic that made it more flexible and more suitable for art. It’s elegance is often used in genres like poetry. The refined style of sosho is considered the father of Hiragana, the syllables of the Japanese alphabet, which are still very influential in Japanese calligraphy.

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The word “fish” written in sosho style.

Love discovering this ancestral technique? Remember you can learn to combine the art of Japanese calligraphy with mindfulness to unite body, mind and spirit in Rie Takeda’s online course: Shodo: Introduction to Japanese Calligraphy.

You may also like:

- Why is Calligraphy so Good for Your Brain?
- What is Calligraphy and What Materials Do I Need to Get Started?
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