Abstract Ink: Japan in a Paintbrush

What does it tell you when arguably the most famous abstract artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, says “Had I been born Chinese I would have been a calligrapher, not a painter”? Eastern Calligraphy, with roots dating back thousands of years, has evolved from its humble and crude stone and chisel beginnings to a means of fluid communication and high art. Shodō (書道) “The Way of the Brush”, handed down through the generations, used by Japanese princes and monks alike, is to this day regarded both as a means for communication and of spiritual awakening. Though unaccustomed Western eyes may be intimidated by its complexity, what is certain is that Shodō is more than just painting: It is a connection to thousands of years of history dating back into Korea and China; it is connecting with language at a deeper level; and at some levels it is a spiritual pathway to enlightenment.

History

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

The story of shodo begins tens of thousands of years ago before the brush even existed. In dimly lit caves such as the ones of Zhongwei, China, our ancestors took stones to stone and chiseled away into history their everyday life: horned animals, fellow hunters, bows and arrows. Written language in the East, just as was the case in the West, was born out of pictures.

least as far back as 3,000BC one finds examples written on animal bones and that can be traced directly to characters in modern use. From here these characters and their use gradually spread until at one point roughly two thousand years when it was decreed a unification of writing was necessary and a standard of 3,300 characters were selected. It was at this time that the development of a brush gave way to more fluid characters, which in turn allowed for the development of different schools of style.

However, it was not even until the middle of the first millennium AD that the use of Chinese characters made its way across Korea and into Japan. Once there, its adopters faced the challenge of matching an already existing way of speaking with a foreign way of writing. Continue reading

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Silence: The Language of Thought

Our Thoughts are a Universe

Our Thoughts are a Universe

Within the confines of our mind in places where no one may ever be able to map out precisely, lie our thoughts and emotions, our feelings and hopes, fears and secrets.  Inside our minds lie our unspoken words, our shouts of pain and joy.  In this vast confined space of our brains and beyond into the ether lie what no one will ever be able to hear but is there nonetheless: Our Personal Dialogue.

To say that it does not exist would be ridiculous! Consider only the moment that is NOW.  Upon the reading of the word “NOW” you evoke the feelings and all memories associated with that word, the memories may lead to more thoughts and feelings and–if you never returned to reading my blog but instead expounded on the internal energy you possess from the word “NOW”–you very well may drift off into an eternal internal personal dialogue. Continue reading

Hand-Writing All 1,947 Jōyō Kanji: Ten Things I Learned.

“The Jōyō kanji are the 1,947 most essential kanji in the Japanese language as designated by the Ministry of Education.  I hand-wrote them all.  This is what I learned…”

Waves of Kanji

Waves of Kanji

In an effort to improve my Japanese writing finesse and satisfy my nearly insatiable interest in Chinese characters I undertook the daunting task of hand-writing every single one of the 1,947 Jōyō kanji as included in this book.  I literally went through every single one of the kanji included in this reference book and wrote and rewrote them until I had gone through all of them.  The focus was on repetition and muscle memory, and maintaining the correct stroke order was pivotal to the entire exercise.

To set the record straight, I really enjoy studying kanji…really enjoy.  What to many is boring and impossible, I find meditative and relaxing, insightful and enlightening.  Within each kanji there is a story and a reason for its construction.  Every kanji is based in a history that is long and clouded and originates in ancient China making them living artifacts, speech relics that are as good today as they were one-thousand years ago.  Each stroke is carefully planned and, when performed in the correct order, smooth and natural to your hand. Continue reading