Japanese Calligraphy: “Shodo” 書道

"Peace", in calligraphy. Written by Oura Kanetake, in the Meji Period.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Peace”, in calligraphy. Written by Oura Kanetake, in the Meji Period.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you are interested in Japan and Japanese, you will most likely have stumbled upon the art of Japanese Calligraphy at one point or another, in one form or another. Japanese calligraphy can be everything from slender and beautiful, to thick, coarse, and almost unreadable to the untrained eye.

The history of the Japanese Calligraphy is (almost) as old as the history of the Kanji themselves. Once the Chinese characters had started to be standardized in the Qin dynasty of China, and the ink and paper replaced the chisel and stone, calligraphy was born, and new ways of expressing yourself in writing was also born.

With the spread of Chinese culture through out Eastern Asia, calligraphy also spread to neighboring countries, such as Korea, and to Japan. This happened in the 7th century. Anyone who was anyone in those days had to be able to know how to read and write Chinese, and that included the art of calligraphy as well. (A common likeness to the Latin of Medieval Europe is often drawn.) However, after a while, the Japanese had found that the Chinese characters all that practical to write Japanese with, and they developed the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets to fill the gaps that they felt was left when only using Kanji. In the 9th and 10th centuries, a style unique to Japan started to emerge. This was not solely because of the (then) fairly new alphabets, but also a way to separate oneself from China, and from the Chinese culture. The emperor of Japan wanted to establish that Japan was it’s own country, with their own culture and style.

Shodo is a living art in modern Japan still, with companies and stores wanting their names written in different traditional styles in order to reflect either the company’s heritage, or its design or focus. You find Shodo on everything from ramen shops to Izakayas (bars).

The different styles of Shodo. From left to right: "Kaisho" regular script, "Gyôsho" semi-cursive script, "Sôsho" cursive script, "Reisho" clerical script, and "Tensho" seal script. (Photo courtesy of shodou.info)

The different styles of Shodo. From left to right: “Kaisho” regular script, “Gyôsho” semi-cursive script, “Sôsho” cursive script, “Reisho” clerical script, and “Tensho” seal script.
(Photo courtesy of shodou.info)

Next time you walk down the street, take an extra look, and see if you can see any Shodo around you. (My bet is that you will.)

A Quick Introduction to Japanese Typography

The follow link leads to an article about Japanese Typography, and is from the site Smashing Magazine, and is written by Shoko Mugikura, who is a Japanese designer based in Berlin. Alongside working on book design projects, she is running the type design studio Just Another Foundry

Japanese, A Beautifully Complex Writing System

The article is a quick introduction into the complexity of the Japanese Typography and how it differs from the “western” style. The article starts out with introducing the reader to the Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana alphabet, and the two writing orientations, and goes on to show how the different orientations are used in everything from books and newspapers, to Metro stations information boards, post cards, and on-screen media.

If you have even a slight interest in layouts and typography, or are just interested in how what ways Japanese might be used, this article is for you. And for the rest: have a read, maybe it makes you think of that station map in the subway in a different way next time you see it ^_^



Shortly after posting about this article, I found another article relating to Japanese Typeface on GaijinPot.

Choosing a Japanese Typeface for your Hanko

A Hanko is your personal stamp, and it’s used in everything from opening bank-accounts, to renting apartments. Sooner or later you might need to design your own. This article brings up the issue of Typeface (or Font, if you will), and what messages different styles might give to others.

Kuroda Kambei at Edo Tokyo Museum

Every year, NKH airs a drama that runs almost the whole year, something they call 大河ドラマ (“Taiga Drama”). This year the Taiga drama is about Kuroda Kanbei, a man of great ambition, and who later became the chief strategic adviser to both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The drama is called 軍師官兵衛 (“Gunshi Kanbei”), and you can see it on NHK all through the year.

Coinciding with the drama being shown on NHK, The Edo Tokyo Museum has a special exhibition about Kuroda Kanbei, starting today, and continuing to June 13th.

Courtesy of Edo Tokyo Museum

Courtesy of Edo Tokyo Museum

Price for admission is as follows:

Prices Ticket to special exhibit Ticket to normal exhibit and special exhibit
General: 1 300 Yen 1 520 Yen
University student or student at specialist school 1 040 Yen 1 210 Yen

If you have seen the drama, are interested in samurais and the Sengoku period, or just want to get a glimpse of Japans in days past, check out this exhibition. And I always recommend the permanent exhibition as well, if you don’t have a particular interest in Kanbei.

More info about the Edo Tokyo Museum is found HERE.

A Geek In Japan – Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony

Another book from our mini- library that you have to check out!


Author: Hector Garcia
ISBN 978-4-8053-1129-5
Tuttle Publishing

Chapter 1 – The Origins of Japanese Culture
Chapter 2 – The Traditional Arts & Disciplines
Chapter 3 – The Unique Japanese Character
Chapter 4 – Curiosities & Symbols
Chapter 5 – The Japanese at Work
Chapter 6 – Japanese Society & Daily Life
Chapter 7 – Japan Today
Chapter 8 – The World of Manga & Anime
Chapter 9 – Modern Japanese Music
Chapter 10 – Movies & Television
Chapter 11 – Visiting Tokyo
Chapter 12 – Traveling Around Japan

This book, A Geek In Japan, reinvents the culture guide for the Internet age. Packed with articles and photographs, it ranges from the touchstones of traditional culture like bushido, geishas, Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism to chapters on traditional arts and disciplines like ukiyo-e, ikebana, Zen meditation, martial arts, and the tea ceremony. There are also cultural code words and values; society and daily life; business and technology; the arts; and symbols and practices that are peculiarly Japanese. A quarter of the chapters are devoted to pop cultural genres, with attention to the stars, idols, and urban subcultures – otakus, gals, lolitas, visual kei, and cosplay – associated with them. For visitors to the country, the author includes a mini-guide to his favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo as well as tips on other places of outstanding interest.




What is Kofun?

Up until last Sunday, you could go to Tokyo National Museum and look at an exhibition of wallpaintings from Asuka Kofun. Unfortunately, the exhibition is over, but you might be thinking “What’s a ‘Kofun’, and what is an ‘Asuka’?”. Well, here is a short explanation of what a Kofun is:

The word Kofun, or 古墳, literally means “ancient grave”, and are megalithic tombs in Japan. (“Megalithic” means that it’s monument made out of large stones.) These graves were built between the early 3rd century (or the 200’s if you want) and the early 7th century (the 600’s), a period in Japanese history that has gotten its name from these graves: the Kofun Period.

Daisen Kofun, Osaka, the largest Kofun. (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The kofun has taken many shapes through-out the years, but the most common one is a keyhole shape, like the one on the picture above, with a rectangular and a circular shape together (前方後円墳 “Zen-pou-kou-en-fun”). But they can also be only circular (円墳 “En-fun”), rectangular (前方後方墳 “Zen-pou-kou-hou-fun”), and squared (方墳 “Hou-fun”).

Asuka is a village in Nara Prefecture, where in the ancient times the Asuka Palaces were built, and a lot of graves of this type can be found. Two of the more famous tombs in Asuka are Takamatsuzuka Tomp (高松塚古墳 “Takamatsuzuka-kofun”), and the Kitora Tomb (キトラ古墳 “Kitora-kofun”).

The exhibition at Tokyo Natonal Museum was about wall-paintings found in the Kitora Tomb in Asuka. Sadly, I could not go myself, although I really wanted to. Will keep my eyes open, in case they show this exhibition again, or another similar one.


Laos Festival in Yoyogi Park

Did you enjoy the Thai Festival last weekend? Or did you miss the Thai Festival, but want to experience the festivities, food and culture of south-east Asia? Then you are in luck! Because this weekend there will be a Laos-themed Festival in Yoyogi park.

As with the previous festival, it is free to participate, and the event will be held on both Saturday (May 24) and Sunday (May 25), and you can enjoy the festivities between 10 am – 7 pm.

More info is found here (in Japanese): http://laos-festival.info

Laos Festival logo

Thai Festival in Yoyogi Park

If you don’t want to go to the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa, or might feel you will get a Japanese Culture overdose after one day at Sensou-ji, set your course to Yoyogi Park, and experience Thai Culture!

Getting in is free, and the festival is on both Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 8 pm. The theme of the festival is “Thai spices and herbs”, and you can eat delicious Thai food, and listen to Thai music with live bands on the stage.

More info about the festival can be found here (Japanese): http://www.thaifestival.jp/jp/

Thai Festival Pic

Sanja Matsuri at Asakusa Shrine

The third sunday of May every year, at the Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社 “Asakusa Jinja”), you can experience one of the three biggest Shinto festivals in Tokyo. This weekend, with it’s peak on Saturday May 17th, it is time again for “Sanja Matsuri” (三社祭, lit. “Three Shrines Festival”), an event that is considered the largest and wildest festival!

The festival is held in in honor of the three men that founded the Sensou-ji (浅草寺 “Sensou-ji”), and big parades are held, where three portable shrines, which are referenced in the name of the festival, are the centre of attention, but there are also traditional music and dancing, and over the three days it’s held it attracts millions, tourists and locals alike.


On friday at 1 pm, there is a big parade, and later in the afternoon there will be traditional dancing in the “Haiden” and the “Kaguraden” buildings in the temple grounds.

On Saturday at 12:30 pm there is a large parade with hundreds of local portable shrines, that tour around the town of Asakusa.

On Sunday at 6 am the three main portable shrines start their tour of the local area, and are returned around 8 pm.

If you want to experience Japanese culture, see traditional dancing, listen to traditional music, and maybe get a glimpse of a “yakuza” or two showing of their tattoos, as well as experiencing the biggest festival in Tokyo, this is definitely the event for you.


We are very excited to share with you this amazing event. Nippon Collection will be holding their first….

KIMONO salon ~for beginners~


Date: May 24th (Saturday) & 25th (Sunday)12:00-18:00

(You will be asked to pay a drink fee of 500 yen at the door)

Venue: 105, 3-28-5 Chidagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

You will get:

→ Cheap but good quality KIMONO and YUKATA (casual type of Kimono for the summer)!
→ One and only Japanese designer’s accessories!

There will be English speaking KIMONO advisers who will help you find the best KIMONO style! You can also chat with everyone over a nice cup of Japanese tea!

Click here for more information → http://www.nipponcollection.com/event-english.html
Or contact Nippon Collection at → info@nipponcollection.com
Click the join button here → https://en.trippiece.com/plans/1513035

Don’t forget to like Nippon Collection’s page on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/nipponcollection

Koinobori 鯉のぼり

Koinobori, which in Japanese means “carp streamer,” can often be found hanging in front of houses, shops and rivers around this time. These carp streamers that are made by drawing carp patterns on cloth (or paper), are hung to celebrate Children’s Day on May 5th, the last day of Golden Week.

In the past, Children’s Day was actually celebrated to honor boys. The carp was chosen as a symbol for this day because of its strong will and great power to swim up the river, against the flow. Adults hoped that boys would grow to become determined and courageous like carps. On the other hand, Hinamatsuri or Doll’s Day on March 3rd was celebrated to honor girls. Traditionally, on this day, girls would receive dolls that were passed down to their own grandmothers and mothers.

Although there is still a tendency among many Japanese families to celebrate boys on Children’s Day, it has definitely become a more general event for all Japanese children. Happy Children’s Day to all the children in Japan and around the world!

Koinobori made by children from an elementary school near Mitakadai in Tokyo.

Check out this traditional Children Day’s song!