Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy)

18. What is Calligrapher in Japan?

A person who is referred as to “Calligrapher” originally means one who earns one’s living out from"calligraphy".
However, in modern society, few people can live on by teaching calligraphy class, managing a private exhibition, selling art work of calligraphy.
In the past when hair pencil was used in common, everyone wrote public documents, private diary, and commercial menu with hair pencil.
Therefor people in that time were better at using a brush than people of today. Among those works, outstanding pieces are still used as a model example, an ornamental art, or invaluable reference. This section introduces people and works which have significantly influenced on calligraphy in Japan.

The Heian period

It is the time which Japanese original style of calligraphy was completed with seeking and expressing beauty while being influenced by Chinese calligraphy.

Saicho(最澄)766(767)-822 Japanese Buddhist monk .He founded the Tendai school and Enryaku-ji (a temple) as headquarter on Mt.Hiei near Kyoto.

久隔状(Kyukakujyo)」書状(syojyo/letter)work at his 47 years old.
The hand script is dignity, quiet and clean. It is highly evaluated as the writing in which the depth of Saicho's soul is expressed.


Nihon meihitsu sen 36 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy) 日本名筆選 36 Japanese only. \3780 ISBN4-544-00746-1/光明皇后・空海・最澄集[楽毅論・風信帖・久隔帖]


Three famous ancient calligraphers: Emperor Saga, Tachibana no Hayanari and Kukai(kuukai)/ kobo-daishi(Kooboo-Daishi)

1.Kukai(kuukai)/ kobo-daishi(Kooboo-Daishi)(空海)774 – 835,Japanese Buddhist monk.

He founded the Shingon school, Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, and popularly known by his posthumous title, kobo-daishi(Kooboo-Daishi). He and Saicho, a founder of Tendai school introduced the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism from China. He is also known as master of calligraphy and named one of the “San pitu” together with Emperor Saga and Tachibana no Hayanari.

He established his original style of calligraphy while being influenced by Ougishi, a Chinese calligrapher, and Gaanshinkei, a Chinese calligrapher. Kukai is an important person in Japanese calligraphy.

「Fushinjyo(風信帖)or known as Sekitokusantusu(尺牘三通)」
This book includes three letters from Kukai to Saicho, at his age of around forty. Style of writing in each letter is different, and deeply interesting.This is the most famous and the first class calligraphic work which Kukai left.

「Kanjyou-ki (灌頂記) or known as「Kanjyou-reimeiki (灌頂歴名)」
This is document recording Kanjyou ceremony, which Kukai gave conferring onto a monk precepts, a mystic teaching in esoteric Buddhism. This document was not supposed to be open, so that it is useful to see a calligraphy style of Kukai in usual situation.

Segment of the Kongôhannyakyô Sutra Commentary、 金剛般若経開題残巻


The Syodo-Giho-Koza NO.10(書道技法講座10) Fushinjyo(風信帖)Kanjyou-ki (灌頂記)\2310,DVD+a special celluloid sheet included. ISBN978-4-544-15110-7

2.Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇)786-842, the 52nd emperor of Japan.He was instructed in calligraphy by Kukai.

「Hokekyou(法華経)」transcribing a sutra

3.Tachibana no Hayanari(橘 逸勢)、782-842, Calligrapher of the Heian period, the peerage.

「Fujiwara heishi ganmon(藤原平子願文)or known as Itonaishinnou gammon (伊都内親王願文)


Nihon meihitsu sen 37 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy) 日本名筆選 37. Selection of Emperor Saga and Tachibana no Hayanari , Japanese only JPY3570・ISBN4-544-00747-X


Three famous ancient calligraphers: 1.Ono no Michikaze/Toufu 2.Fujiwara no Sukemasa 3.Fujiwara no Yukinari/Kozei

1.Ono no Michikaze/Toufu (小野 道風)894-966, Calligrapher of the Heian period, the peerage

「The Gyokusen-Jo (玉泉帖)」
This is the handscroll, which includes poems by a Chinese poet, Bai Juyi, at Tang period. There are consisted of mixture from Kai-sho style to Sosho style, and various sizes of letters.

「Byoubu dodai (屏風土代)」
a draft for an inscription on a byoubu (Japanese folding screen)



The Toufu Musium is located in Kasugai-city, Aichi-prefecture.

Nihon meihitu sen 38 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy) 日本名筆選38 Selction of Onono Michikaze/Toufu, Japanese only JPY3570・ISBN4-544-00748-8

2.Fujiwara no Sukemasa/Sali (藤原佐理)944-998 Calligrapher of the Heian period.Authority of Sosho stlyle.He is renowned as one of Sanseki, and his flowing and dynamic style was called as “saseki"


Shinseki (original handwriting)

「Shikaishi (詩懐紙)」 Oldest extant shikaishi, national treasure
Poem is written on kaishi paper. People in that time folded a piece of paper and tucked inside the front of the kimono, and wrote a poem in a meeting of poets. The paper is called as Kaishi paper.

Rirakujo (離洛帖) national treasure
The sosho style in this book has a feature of speedy and remarkable character. It is known as “Sari-jo”


Nihon meihitu sen 39 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy) 日本名筆選 39 Selction of Fujiwara no Sukemasa, Japanese only JPY3570・ISBN4-544-00749-6

3.Fujiwara no Yukinari/Kozei (藤原 行成)972-1027 , a court official serving as a Major Counselor in Heian period.

「Hakurakutenshikan(白楽天詩巻)」, or named as「 Hakushishikan (白氏詩巻)」
This is his masterpiece at his age of forty. The style was influenced by Wang Xizhi, a Chinese calligrapher, and Onono Toufu, a Japanese calligrapher. His calm and steady personality were expressed. The balanced shape of letters and calm but powerful line of letters are significantly beautiful.

hitomaroshugedankan (人麿集下断簡(室町切)National treasure

「hakushishikan(白氏詩巻)National treasure


Nihon meihitsu sen 40 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy)日本名筆選 40.Selction of Fujiwara no Yukinari, Japanese only JPY2940・ISBN4-544-00750-X

「Dechobonwakanroueishu (粘葉本和漢朗詠集)」
Both Kanji and Kana were used. There are few continuous, flowing lines in which multiple characters are written continuously, without breaks between them.

References, This is good text for beginner and practical.

The Syodo-Giho-Koza no.19 (書道技法講座 19)Dechobonwakanroueishu (粘葉本和漢朗詠集) JPY2310, DVD+a special celluloid sheet included. ISBN978-4-544-15119-0

Ki no Tsurayuki (紀貫之)872(871)- 945(946), Japanese poet of the Heian period.He is best known as the principle compiler of the Kokin Wakashū. He is counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. He wrote Kana mainly.Author of the Tosa Dairy, Tsurayuki-syu (private selection of his poem)


Koyagire-kokinsyu-makidaini( 高野切古今集巻第二)National treasure


The Syodo-Giho-Koza no.17 (書道技法講座 17) Koyagire-kokinsyu-daiissyu( 高野切古今集第一種) JPY2310 DVD+a special celluloid sheet included. ISBN978-4-544-15117-6

Saigyo(西行)1118 – 1190, waka poet, samurai of the late Heian and early Kamakura period.

His works are stored at the TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM.

miyagawautaawasedankan,(宮河歌合断簡) believed to be written by Saigyo.



Nihon meihitsu sen 41 (Selection of Japanese fine calligraphy) ,日本名筆選41,Ichijyosettushu, 一条摂津集,\3780,ISBN4-544-00751-8

The Momoyama period to The Edo period

Kan'ei no San-pitsu (寛永の三筆)

Three famous ancient calligraphers:1.Konoe Nobutada,2.Hon'ami Kōetsu,3.shokado Shojo

1.Konoe Nobutada (近衛 信尹)1565–1614,Courtier,poet,calligrapher,painter and diarist

「Shikishijo(色紙帖)」,or known as Genjimonogatarisho(源氏物語抄)

2.Hon'ami Kōetsu (本阿弥光悦)1558-1637 Craftsman, calligrapher.His work is generally considered to have inspired the founding of the Rinpa school of painting.




3.Shokado Shojo (松花堂昭乗)1584(1582)-1639,Teacher of Yuhitsu of Edo government, who record official documents, Buddhist monk, painter, and master of the tea ceremony

「Chogonka (長恨歌)」

Ike no Taiga(池 大雅) 1723-1776,painter,calligrapher born in the Edo period

Inchu Hassen no Uta Byoubu ( 飲中八仙歌屏風)」 Written in Sou-sho style on a folding screen. This work was made when he was drunk,so that size of letters and sumi-tsugi (adding sumi-ink in the middle of characters)are free and bold.

Edonosyo (江戸の書);Calligraphy in the Edo

Ryōkan (良寛)1758-1831 Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk, composer of Chinese poems, calligrapher in the Edo period. He is popular as a monk who loved to play with children and commonly known among Japanese people. He lived much of his life as a hermit on begging for alms (Takuhatsu). His feeling in solitary life environment influenced his arts deeply. Everyone feel peace of mind on his works.

His works are stored at the TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM.

「Shuyarougetsushi ( 秋夜弄月詩)」

San-pitsu at the last Edo period(幕末の三筆)

Three famous ancient calligraphers:1.Nukinasuuou,2.Makiryouko,3.Ichikawabeian

1.Nukina suuou(貫名菘翁)1778 -1863 Confucian scholar, calligrapher; literati painter at the late Edo period.

His works are stored at the Toufu Memorial Museum

「Iroha Byobu(いろは屏風)」

2.Makiryouko(巻菱湖)1777–1843 Calligrapher at the late Edo period.

Makiryouko Kinen Jidaikan

3.Ichikawabeian(市河米庵)1779–1858 Calligrapher, Composer of Chinese poems at the late Edo period

His works are stored at the TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM.


Edonosyo (江戸の書);Calligraphy in the Edo JPY3675, ISBN978-4-544-01080-0, Calligraphy of popular intellectual persons, such as Honami Koustsu(本阿弥光悦), Konoe Nobutada(近衛信尹), Karasuma Mitsuhiro(烏丸光広), Shokado Shojo(松花堂昭乗), Emperors, Tokugawa Ieyasu(徳川家康), are included.

The Meiji era

San-Pitsu (三筆) in the Meiji period

IwayaIchiroku, Nakabayashi Gochiku, Kusakabe Meikaku are recognized as three famous calligraphers in the Meiji.

1.Iwaya Ichiroku (巌谷 一六) 1834-1905, politician, calligrapher

His works are stored at the Toufu Memorial Museum.

2.Nakabayashi Gochiku (中林 梧竹)1827-1913, calligrapher

Nakabayashi Gochiku Memorial Museum

3.Kusakabe Meikaku(日下部 鳴鶴)1838-1922, calligrapher,He devoted calligraphy from forty-two years old. He studied Chinese calligraphy and founded the Meikaku school. He made vast contributions to Japanese calligraphy.



Nihonnosyo 日本の書;;Calligraphy in the Japan ,From the Restoration to Showa period(維新~昭和初期) JPY2940 ISBN978-4-544-01079-4

His works are stored at the Toufu Memorial Museum

The Taisho period to The Showa period

Bundo Shunkai (豊道春海)1878- 1970, monk of Tendai sect of Buddhism, calligrapher. He developed an unique style in Rokucho-Kaisho, one school of Kaisho. After wars, he contributed to foundation of the Nihon Shodo Bijutsuin (Calligraphic art institute in Japan),and set up section of calligraphy at Nitten Exhibition ; Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, which is the most authoritative and comprehensive art exhibition in Japan.

San-Pitsu (三筆) in the Showa period

Three famous ancient calligraphers in Showa period: Nishikawa Yasushi, Hibino Go-ho, Teshima Yukei.

1.Nishikawa Yasushi, 西川 寧1902 -1989, Representative calligrapher in the 20 century, Ph. D. in literature (the Keio University) He made the biggest influence on the modern calligraphic society. His style is as strong and firm as to have impacted on a calligraphic society.

2.Hibino Go-ho,日比野五鳳 1901-1985 He is an excellent calligrapher in Kana and Kanji. He developed a Japanese Aesthetics in calligraphy based on firm and traditional technique. Member of the Nitten review committee.

Hibino Go-ho Memorial Museum of Arts(日比野五鳳記念美術館)

3.Teshima Yukei,手島 右卿1902-1987 calligrapher, person of cultural merit. His nickname is “Lion Yukei”.

Councilor, member of review committee of the Nitten. He founded a field of calligraphy which combines oriental sprit and modern sensibility. He is calligraphy of Syoji-susyo,which composed with small number of letters, usually one to three letters, based on traditional techniques, such as Kukai. His work was exhibited as representative of Japanese calligraphy to the Brussels World Exposition in 1958. The work “Hougyu”received the first golden prize and attracted attention from the world. Once you see “Hougyu”, you never forget.

His works are stored at the HIKARU MUSEUM

Suzuki Suiken, 鈴木翠軒1889-1976calligrapher, he was a teacher of elementary school,person of cultural merit.

He studied kaisho at ancient Chinese eras called Tang, and had a profound knowledge of Emperor Saga, Kukai, Ryokai. He had been a dominant influence with works of light ink painting. He wrote many textbooks in calligraphy, and made vast contributions to calligraphic education. Characteristic of light ink painting is to produce a three-dimensional effect by drawing in light ink. This technique is unique in traditional world of thick ink only, and added a new field.

His works are stored at the Kasugai Dofu Memorial Museum.

Aoyama Sannu, 青山杉雨,1912–1993, calligrapher.He studied styles of writing kanji, such as Tensho, Reisho, Kobun. He created a new style based on a Chinese style of writing called 'Ching type'. He wrote many textbooks.


Revised.The Shodo-Gihou-Kouza no.15 (書道技法講座 15),Mokkan(木簡) \2310,DVD+a special celluloid sheet included. ISBN978-4-544-15115-2

His works are introduced at Tokyo National Museum