History of Japanese
Calligraphy - Part 4

During the Edo period peculiar group of styles of written characters came to life, called edo moji (江戸文字, lit. “characters from Edo period”). They were mainly used for designing purposes, writing names of sumo wrestlers, store banners, etc. Today, calligraphers consider them more of a craft (in this understanding they are closer to western calligraphy) than art, having little to nothing in common with the traditional way of writing Chinese characters.

The end of the Edo period put an end to the isolation of Japan, and calligraphers widely appreciated karayou styles once again. Studying basics, such as kaisho, gyousho and sousho, but also other ancient and formative styles like reisho, tensho or even koukotsubun become rather popular in professional calligraphic circles.

“Leaping dragon” (龍跳), calligraphy by Hidai Tenrai (比田井天来), cursive script, early 20th century.

Today, with instant information access, cultural exchange has ascended to a completely new level. Far Eastern calligraphy was profoundly influenced by modern abstract painting, and vice versa. Consequently, a style called “image of ink” (墨象, bokushou) was developed in Japan. It is a crossover between calligraphy, sumi-e and modern abstract art. It is also referred to as avant-gard calligraphy. The forefather of “image of ink” was grand master calligrapher Hidai Ternai (比田井天来 1872 - 1939).

Further, designers with calligraphic background contributed to creating a POP “style”, being quite often on the verge of breaking strict laws of calligraphy (or simply breaking them). With that, logos and other imaginative compositions, based on logographic ideas and somewhat linked to Chinese characters, were offered a total makeover. Many old-school calligraphers see it as a dangerous practice, possibly leading to relaxing rules of sho and therefore diluting its essential beauty, similar to what simplifying Chinese characters does to the writing systems based on kanji. Still, since this POP “style” is deeply rooted in Far Eastern aesthetics it may seem very intriguing even for the most rigid calligrapher. Nonetheless, one needs to be cautious with modern approaches and such “styles” of calligraphy in a very broad sense, as the border between sho and just a random maze of lines may be quite difficult to draw, especially for the layman.


Back to Japanese Calligraphy History - Part 3

Back to Japanese Calligraphy History - Part 1

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