Monday, February 16, 2009

The tool kit used for Japanese calligraphy

Using the most adequate tool kit is essential for writing correct japanese calligraphic works. The primary tools are paper, special brushes, ink and the ink-pot; these four are also known under the expression "The four treasures of the Study". Here are a few basic tools and their description:

* Shitajiki - is a material which comes under the sheets of paper used for writing the calligraphy.

* Bunchin 文鎮 - a metalic object much like a stick that comes over the shitajiki and the paper, to assure stability when writing.

* Washi - it is the name for the thin sheet of calligraphic paper .

* Fude - the japanese name for the writing brush. There are two main tipes of brushes: futofude( the large brush) and hosofude( the thin brush). The first one is used for writing the text, while the thin ones are used for writing the author's name, at the footer. For manufacturing a brush are used various kinds of animal hair, the shape of the final characters varying according to the type used. The hair comes from animals like wolves, squirrels, weasels or goat. The handle is commonly made out of bamboo. It is seldomly manufactured from glass, ivory, silver, gold or red ruby wood.

* Suzuri - is the name for the ink-pot.

* Sumi - solid pieces of ink that are melted in water and converted in liquid ink after a long process of rubbing. There are, of course, bottles of liquid ink, but they are used only for practice purposes. Traditional Sumi is made from charcoal or smut, this being the reason why in ancient japanese calligraphy it was written only with black characters; more recently there are calligraphs known to be using other colours. For instance, the master corrects the works of his pupils with orange ink.

* Suiteki - is a custom made bowl, filled with water and used to rinse the brushes from time to time. They come in various shapes and sizes and are usually made out of ceramics.

* Suzuribako - is a custom made box lodging the entire tool kit used for calligraphy.

If you want to find out more about various kits click here.

The Art of the Japanese Calligraphy- a short introduction

The japanese calligraphy is a combination of a person's skill and imagination and requires compelling knowledge of various mixes of lines and strokes. It is, by definition, a very personal occupation, the styles varying from one calligraph to another.

Known by the japanese term of shodou it is perceived as a form of traditional art, mainly due to the fact that every character has a meaning of its own. Maybe for an untrained eye they are all the same, but a profesional japanese calligraph can easily distinguish between a good and a mediocre work. It is all about knowledge and inner flair.
There are no standard rules for shodou, but we can outline a few guidelines for judging it: the balance between each written character and the composition as a whole; strait lines have to be strong and well defined; the curved ones should be delicate and sharpe; another criterion is the quantity of ink used; most importantly, a proper shodou work should have an inner rithm and vitality.

The art of calligraphy originated in India and China; it was introduced in Japan in VI-VIII centuries( when it already was an established tradition in China), alongside the chinese writing system, known as Kanji. The priests and monks were among the first to practice this ancient art, the most famous of them being the buddhist monk Kukai. The japanese calligraphy meet a real boom in the X-XI centuries, when three practicians of this noble art- Ono no Tofu, Fujiwara and Yukinari- developed the first japanese writing technique, namely mayou. This process continued throught the centuries and reached its finest expression after the first World War, embodied in the zen-ei sho style. The japanese calligraphy exerted a tremendous influence on the Western art, if we only consider two great masters: Matisse and Picasso.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Japanese Kimono

Kimono is a japanese word that describes the traditional nipon costume,worn both by men and women. The term is of rather recent origins, dating back in the 19th century, when it was introduced to clearly mark the limits between Western clothing, yokufu, and wafuku, the japanese traditional costumes. Kimono comes from kiru(to wear) and mono(thing) and therefore literary means "thing to wear". The japanese kimono is said to had been influenced by the Chinese traditional costumes used during the Han period( apx. II century A.D.).

The kimono comes, invariable, in a fixed, universal size, its lenght being adjusted by a binding silk cord, its margins folding over it. The kimono's colours had to be chosen carefully, as they indicated the owner's rank in society. The kimono cult blossomed during the Edo age. The trend was set by kabukiactors and high class dames.

The kimono tradition spread all across Japan, this costume being mass-worn by all social strata of the japanese society. That until the Meiji period, when Western clothing became a compulsory requirement for all those helding public functions; even in this conditions, many women kept wearing the traditional kimono long after the II World War.

Nowdays, the kimono costume is being worn only at special occasions, like weddings, New Year's Eve or during the tea ceremony. The kimono cloth, as well as its colours and decorations carry information in relation with the owner's age and social status. Also the adroid mix of accessories and the colour palette can tell a lot about his/her personality. The entire outfit has to be carefully calculated in respect with the season in which it is worn. In such way, dull colours are used in the spring time, while bleak hues are appropriate during the summer. For autumn, the kimono colours are more nature-like, while in winter the most common are the strong hues, like red or black.
A traditional Kimono can be very expensive, starting from 10.000 $ up. This hasn't to be such a huge surprise, if we consider that it is hand weaved and hand painted using ancient japanese techniques.