Tokyobling's Blog

Shodo – Calligraphy Exhibition

Posted in Japanese Traditions, National Art Center, Places by tokyobling on February 14, 2014

If you are in Tokyo and interested in Japanese calligraphy, shodo, you might want to and see the 54th annual Nihon Shosakuin exhibition on the second floor of the National Art Center in Roppongi. The exhibition is nothing less than massive, it would take a day or two to just read all of the beautiful calligraphy that is on display. The exhibition runs until the 17th of February, 13:30. Calligraphy came to Japan with the introduction of writing from China and as usual they have made it into a beloved national art form. Almost all schools in Japan teach calligraphy to their students and there are many school clubs dedicated to the subject. Japanese still take great pride in beautiful handwriting and a lot of people keep the tradition of writing with ink and brush alive.

One of the more interesting traditions involving calligraphy is the kakizome (書き初め), the first writing of the new year. In the old days people would write a poem on the the first day of the new year, using ink made from the first water drawn from the well. These days though, many people settle on writing characters that they like or find promising for the new years. I have even seen sets of ink, brushes and paper set out in bars and night clubs in the first few days of the year. It is interesting to see young and old club goers and bar-hoppers sit down and concentrate on this ancient art before getting back on the dance floor or karaoke machine!

Even though this is an ancient art form there are still trends and movements in the styles presented by the different artists, and to my untrained eye the writing looked more subdued than the wild sprawling writing I saw a lot of when I visited the exhibition in 2010.

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6 Responses

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  1. Timi said, on February 14, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    If I’m gonna reborn in Japan, I will definitely learn calligraphy. It’s not only amazing, but while writing I would calm down and get into a zen like state * – *

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  2. Mirja said, on February 15, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Impressive! How would it feel to get lost in a calligraphy exhibition…?
    I agree, the works four years ago looked more interesting.

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    • tokyobling said, on February 17, 2014 at 12:29 am

      Haha… it is quite a surreal experience. “Didn’t I pass this elegy a few minutes ago? Wait, I think I am walking in circles, it is the third time I read this haiku now!” (^-^;) I think there was a bit of “trend” going four years ago, with wilder writing that was very common in folky style restaurant, on menus etc. It could have been a mini boom inspired by the great calligraphist Mitsu Aida. http://www.mitsuo.co.jp/museum/index.html

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      • Mirja said, on February 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

        Thanks for the link! I find it really difficult to find information about this kind of museums – or anything about modern calligrapy. I guess the Japanese think foreigners are not interested. And really, most Westerners seem to be blind to calligraphy.

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        • tokyobling said, on February 27, 2014 at 4:40 am

          I think there might be a bit of language barrier thing going on, as far as most westerners are concerned, eastern calligraphy is more of good looking kanji for their latest tattoo. Which reminds me of the old movie, the pillow book, the Peter Greenaway.

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