Japan Table of Contents

Calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing, had long been highly esteemed, intensively studied, and avidly collected. The writing of Chinese ideograms (kanji) in a wide variety of styles was inherited from the Chinese scholarly tradition, which at one extreme became the nearly indecipherable grass-style writing and at the other geometric abstractions. There are famous exponents of all these styles in contemporary Japan who have spent a lifetime perfecting their skills. The most widely used mode is called kana, referring to the Japanese syllabary, which provides an opportunity to depict both ideograms and Japanese phonetic sounds in set phrases. This kind of writing may be done in many ways: with fine, delicate strokes or bold, splashy ones, carefully controlled or in uninhibited freedom, and on a scale ranging from large to minuscule. Traditional Japanese poetry is usually classified in the kana group, while modern poetry is placed in a group by itself. Zen Buddhism promoted a spontaneous style of writing in its koan, which includes some pictorial additions.

Because calligraphy lends itself so well to modern abstract painting, some artists have used it in this form; the Bokusho abstract school has developed some outstanding masters. Calligraphers are greatly revered not only for their skill and scholarship but also for their attainment of a high spiritual level, which produces the meditative calm considered necessary for truly creative brushwork. Calligraphy is widely collected at enormous prices, and writing by well-known persons in various fields, such as politics or the military, is also treasured even by those who cannot read the script, which is not uncommon because some is nearly abstract.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress