Shodo (calligraphy) (書道)

Shodo or Sho is a creative eastern art that expresses the beauty of characters by writing.
A kind of calligraphy
Originated in China, and Kana (syllabary) was derived from Kanji (Chinese characters) in Japan and Chu nôm was invented in Vietnam, as well as each unique calligraphic style has been established.


Characters were initially created for actual use, but the method to express aesthetically was created with the advancement in culture. Such aesthetic characters are called Sho. Shodo is to learn this aesthetic expression of characters under standardized training, beautify life with actual use, enrich spiritually as a pastime, and express individual beauty. And to train character and inspire sentiment during the course of learning. Therefore, Shodo is one method of human improvement and it has been revered as one of Six Arts (rites, music, archery, charioteering, literature, and mathematics) since ancient times in China.

A brush and Sumi (ink) are mainly used to write characters on paper making use of their characteristics in Shodo. The technique is Hippo (way of writing) (how to hold a brush, how to write ten-kaku (the dots and strokes that make up a kanji character)), Kekkoho (how to arrange letter shapes), and Shoho (Shodo) (how to entirely organize), and various methods are devised for each to be differently used in writing style, calligraphy style, and others.

In Japan, large-scale Shodo exhibitions were held since the Showa period which established Shodo's status as modern art, consequently a creative method as art work is added to Shodo technique. These techniques are generally acquired by learning from Shoka (calligrapher) through various educational institutions, studying focusing on the classics, and entering products in Shodo exhibitions to heighten one's own skills. Four fields of Kanji, Kana (Shodo), Tenkoku (seal engraving), and Chowatai (harmony) are carried out in the Fifth Department (Sho) by the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, a typical exhibition in Japan.


History of Shodo is a division of fine art related history and can be roughly divided into two; Chinese history of Shodo, the principle and Japanese history of Shodo, the collateral line.

Shojin (calligrapher)



Refer the list of Chinese brushstrokes for those in China and each period of Japanese Shodo history for brushstrokes in Japan.

Shoron (the theory of calligraphy)

The oldest existing theory of calligraphy in China is "Hisosho" written by Choitsu in the Chinese calligrapher list described in the later term of the Western Han period (refer to the Chinese history and theory of calligraphy). It is said that the oldest theory of calligraphy in Japan is found in the "Japanese school of calligraphy, Yakaku Teikinsho" (calligraphy manual) written by FUJIWARA no Koreyuki described during the late Heian period (before 1177). Furthermore, "Japanese school of calligraphy, Saiyosho" (or "Hittaisho"), a secret document of Shodo, is recorded by FUJIWARA no Koretsune also around 1177, originally Kuden (oral instruction) of FUJIWARA no Norinaga.

The instruments

Suzuri (ink stone), brush, paper, and Sumi are the minimum instruments required in Shodo done with a brush and they are collectively called Bunboshiho (four stationary goods). Water is also required if Sumi is solid. Moreover, a felt mat called Mosen is heavily used.

Suzuri: Usage is the same as that of a palette in painting. Suzuri serves the purpose when rubbing the ink stick back and forth or keeping Bokuju (black liquid ink). Stone material is usually used, but some are made in the form of earthenware, lacquer ware, and others.

Brush: Commonly collected hair of animals such as horse, sheep, raccoon dog, and others, attached to the top of wooden or bamboo stick. Chicken, weasel, mongoose, peacock, bamboo, and others are also used. For a big brush, it is recommended to use eight-tenths for the standard style and to the root in semiformal style. For a small brush, it is recommended not use more than half.

Paper: Massively produced Shodo paper is mostly used and high-quality Senshi (calligraphic paper), Japanese paper, and others are also used.

Sumi: Ink
Solidified soot of grease, oil, pine, and others and with increased preserving properties are available on the market.
Ink made with soot collected from vegetable oil and other oil is called 'black ink stick made from lampsoot' and from pine is 'black ink stick made from burnt pine (seiboku - bluish ink stick).'
Moreover, Bokuju is also widely used as liquid sumi.

Omoshi: Weight of paper used
Size and weight are not especially limited.


The classics of Sho are the beautiful brushstrokes born out of the accumulation of effort and imagination by predecessors and the most orthodox practice is to learn these classics. It is not easy to master Sho, but knowledge of the works of earlier artists who learnt about the classics and of how Sho has changed over the years makes it possible to provide students with guidelines that enable them to achieve a greater depth in their works and a heightened state of mind that they would be unable to reach on their own.
Though there are many classics, the basic ones of each writing style to learn first are as follows:

Kaisho-tai (printed style writing): Oyojun Kyuseikyu Reisenmei (the very best of the perfect version of kaisho), Yu Shinan Kong zi miao tang bei, and others

Gyosho-tai (semiformal style writing): Wang Xizhi Ji wang shen jiao xu, and others

Sosho-tai (cursive style writing): Shofu (book of calligraphy) by Son Katei, the Seventeenth Quire written by Wang Xi-Zhi, and others

Reisho-tai (clerical style writing): Reisho-tai Itsueihi, Reisho-tai Sozenhi, and others

Tensho-tai (seal-engraving style writing): Taizankokuseki of Shiko shichikokuseki (seven inscriptions made by Shiko Emperor), Sekkobun (stone-drum Inscriptions), and others

Kana (Shodo): Koya-gire (fragment of Kokin Waka Shu Poetry Anthology), First Class, Koya-gire, Third Class, and others

Rinsho (writing calligraphy and copying)

Rinsho means to write observing examples and illustrates the methods of Keirin, Irin, and Hairin. Keirin focuses on copying the shape of characters and Irin, reading Hitsui (calligrapher's intention). Hairin is to write by memory without observing examples. Rinsho has been performed since ancient times as the means to learn the classics and others, and that of "Wang Xi-Zhi Gakkiron" by Wang Xizhi exists in Shosoin Treasure House thanks to Empress Komyo during the Nara period (the eighth century).


It is called "Shoho (Shūfǎ)" in China and is instructed in elementary education. There was a time when Shodo education by traditional Chinese was sought due to lack of visual beauty in simplified Chinese, but now the standard is to instruct the simplified characters because the traditional is not consistent with the political measures for promoting simplified Chinese. Shodo education using a hard brush, ballpoint pen, and others are also being attempted. Furthermore, calligraphy associations exist in various places of China and contribute to the development of Shodo outside of public education.


Compulsory education in Japan defined by the Education Ministry guidelines is to instruct Shodo by brush in lessons for the third grade or more of elementary school as Shosha (copy of calligraphy) of the Japanese language subject. For high school, Shodo is placed in together with music, arts, and others in the art department as an elective.

As for the university, Shodo related lectures have been set to those having education and literature departments. Especially in the education department for teacher training, set in each prefecture, a laboratory for Shosha and Shodo education is available to give specialized education.

National and public universities such as Iwate University, Niigata University, Tsukuba University, Tokyo Gakugei University, Shizuoka University, and Fukuoka University of Education have Shodo related department, major, faculty, course, field, and also a graduate school to educate capable instructors. The United Graduate School of Education in Graduate School of Tokyo Gakugei University (the United Graduate Schools) consisted of Tsukuba University and four schools of Tokyo Gakugei University, Yokohama National University, Chiba University, and Saitama University) has a doctor's course as well (Doctor of Arts: Tsukuba, Doctor of Philosophy in Education: United Graduate Schools). Moreover, the Joint Graduate School in the Sciences of School Education in Graduate School of Hyogo University of Teacher Education also has a doctor's course (education), but specializes in Shosha education only.

For private university, Daito Bunka University has established Shodo Department and Shikoku University, Shodo Culture Department, cultivating Shoka and educators on a full scale. Furthermore, both universities have a Shodo related major in a graduate school as well.

Studies of Shodo

At present, there are the following academic societies and study groups of Shodo and characters in Japan.

Shogaku Shodoshi Gakkai

All Japan College Calligraphic Studies

All Japan Association of College Shosha-Shodo Education

All Japan Association of Shosha-Shodo Education

Shodo societies in Japan

There are Shodo societies consisting of art groups and educational organizations, and the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition of the former is holding exhibitions for publicly chosen pieces nationwide. Other than the above, there are calligrapher associations organized by regions and prefectures, and various societies (also called Shachu) presided by Shoka. The educational organization is trying to promote Shodo widely holding their own certification examination and others.

Shodo as occupation

Shuji (calligraphy) has been traditionally taught in Terakoya (a private elementary school during the Edo period) and in others in Japan as 'reading, writing, and abacus.'
Many Shodo and Shuji classes exist under this tradition. The instructors are aging, but they have undergone a great change recently as a young male Shoka appear on TV programs and in magazines for young people.

The development of computers has lowered the threshold to process Sho works using computers and at the same time a genre called Design Shodo has been gradually established. This is to design Shodo works into various things such as household goods, interiors, and nameplates through computer processing and others, which has attracted attention as a new profession involved with Sho.

Judgment of skills

At present, Brush Examinations supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are the only objective qualification criteria to determine Shodo skills. There go from the bottom Fifth Kyu (rank) to the top First Kyu, but no Dan-i (rank above Kyu) is certified. The First Kyu certifies one to have obtained publicly recognized qualifications as an instructor. While popularized Dan-i and Kyu-i and the certification of a grand master are determined by each Shodo class and Shodo society, without any common criteria.

[Original Japanese]