Japanese Calligraphy History : Japanese calligraphy is a visual art, using the symbols of the Japanese language (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji).
5th century C.E. is the time period in which Kanji (Chinese characters) was fully used in Japan. By the 6th century, there were about 50,000 Kanji and 5 major styles of calligraphy, though only 3 are mainly used today. There are also a number of other styles that are not widely used, but do exist. Japanese calligraphy and Chinese calligraphy are very much alike, since it derived from Chinese calligraphy. The technique and tools are essentially the same. The styles do differ quite a bit, such as Japan’s own character system. Kana (Hiragana and Katakana).
During the Heian period, a new style of calligraphy was created, a style that made Japanese calligraphy unique from chinese calligraphy. It was first used in a poem written back in 749 C.E. Soon after, the official Japanese way of calligraphy was founded, which was known as wayo. Wayo was practiced as a Japanese art style until the mid 19th century. The founders of Wayo were the Sanseki, which translates to “three brush traces.” The three were known as: Ono no Michikaze, Fujiwara no Yukinari, and Fujiwara no Sukemasa. Michikaze served as an archetype for a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, called the Shoren-in, and through this he developed another style of Japanese calligraphy, Oie. It was used for official documents during the Edo period of Japan. Yukinari (known as the master of kana) founded Sensoji (Buddhist Temple) calligraphy, which later became the leading style of wayo.
Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun in 1603, and was in power until his death in 1616. This marked the beginning of the Edo era, which was a time of peace for Japan that lasted 250 years. Japan only used a style called karayo during this time. The Daishi school focused on the study of the “eight principles of the character yong” and the and 72 types of “brush energy.” In 1664, a book was made based on these principles, which continued its development.
Hon’ami Koetsu, Konoe Nobutada, and Shokado Shojo; those three were known as the three Kan’ei Sanpitsu. Koetsu painted a backdrop of decorative and floral patterns, along with his calligraphy provided a poetic essence. Because of this unique calligraphy to Japan, he is considered one of the greatest calligraphers using the wayo style of calligraphy. Nobutada’s role in art has been highly overlooked due to his aristocracy, though he was a poet, calligrapher, painter and diarist. Shojo dedicated himself to, painting, poetry, and the tea ceremony. The end of the Edo period meant studies turned to the main three styles: Kaisho, Gyosho, and Sosho.
In modern times, in Japan, Japanese calligraphy is an elementary school subject, and in high school an elective. Several colleges do have Japanese calligraphy departments though. Western artists have also been influenced by Japanese calligraphy, and studied it as well as worked on their own art of course! Today, it is a hobby taken by many.
Lastly, there is a society in present time known as the Bokuteki-kai. This society focuses on training professional calligraphers, and the better you are, the higher you rank, eventually making you a teacher in the art of Japanese calligraphy.