The History and forms of Japanese Calligraphy

In Japan, calligraphy was introduced around 600 A.D. and it is known as Shodō, or “the way of writing.” Shodō was inspired by Chinese calligraphy which can be traced back to the 28th century B.C. The originators of this art form are thought to be Kuukai (a Buddhist monk), the Emperor Saga, and Tachibana no Hayanari (a courtier). Together they were able to create a unique style of calligraphy called wayou or Japanese style.


Just as American children learn cursive in grade school, Japanese children learn calligraphy in school as well. There are three distinct styles of calligraphy: kaisho, gyosho, and sousho.

Kaisho is a practical style where each stroke is done very carefully and deliberately, so that the lines are neat and clean. You can compare this style of Japanese calligraphy to a computer font. Most children learn this style first, as the letters are similar to everyday characters. Learning Kaisho will help them learn to use the brush, which is also known as “fude.”



The next style is gyousho- a semi-cursive version of Japanese calligraphy. Gyosho is best described as a speedy type of writing. Imagine you were in a hurry and just trying to write something down quickly – that’s gyosho! This style has a more organic feel. The strokes are more rounded than the strict strokes of kaisho and can be read by most Japanese adults with ease.


The final style is known as sousho, which is the cursive style of Japanese calligraphy. When writing in this style, the artist will rarely move the brush off the paper. The curves of the characters are much rounded than the gyousho style. A true art form, this style of calligraphy is written more for the aesthetic appeal, rather than functionality. Only those with special training will be able to read this type of script..