Calligraphy, also known as Shodo (書道), is the art of dancing your brush—not on canvas, but on rice paper. The end result is a beautiful form of writing that is valued by people across the globe. Calligraphy is a famous skill especially in Japan; children learn it in school and adults often adopt it as a hobby.

Because of its deep connection with the Japanese culture and tradition, Shodo is considered more than just writing in the country. It is a form of expression; a means for the Japanese to leave behind parts of their souls.

Keep reading to learn all about Japanese calligraphy, and how to do calligraphy in Kyoto and Tokyo during your next trip!

What is Japanese Calligraphy?

At its core, Shodo is the art of writing (by hand) to create letters/symbols with a brush and ink. In its traditional form, Japanese calligraphy involves writing Japanese characters (Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana).

Central to Japanese calligraphy is the concept of “ichi-go ichi-e” (一期一会), meaning “one moment, one meeting”. This Zen philosophy emphasizes the importance of cherishing each moment. In Shodo, every brushstroke is unique and irreplaceable—personifying the very essence of ichi-go ichi-e.

Styles of Writing

  1. Kaisho (楷書): Also known as “block script”, this is the most basic styles in calligraphy. It features clear and balanced strokes, and is often used for formal documents and signage.
  2. Gyosho (行書): Another name for gyosho is “semi-cursive script”. It is more fluid and expressive than kaisho, and features flowing strokes. You can think of it as adding dynamism to kaisho.
  3. Sosho (草書): This is also called “cursive script”, and is the most artistic style of Japanese calligraphy. Its abbreviated strokes look like graceful lines; the aim here is capturing the essence of characters.

Other styles include reisho and kana. The former is a decorative style of calligraphy while the latter refers to Japanese syllabary characters.

japanese calligraphy kaisho,gyosho, and sosho styles
Photo credit: Seido Shop

Tools Used in Calligraphy in Japan

If you want to know how to do calligraphy, you will generally need:

  • Fude (Brush): This is the primary tool for calligraphy. Larger brushes are used for bold strokes, while smaller brushes are used for finer details.
  • Sumi (Ink): Sumi ink is made from charcoal mixed with glue and water. This results in a dense black pigment. Instant ink bottles are also available.
  • Bunchin (Stick): This metal stick helps weigh down the paper as you write.
  • Suzuri (Inkstone): Inkstone is used to grind the solid inkstick with water to create liquid ink. 
  • Hanshi (Paper): This is the traditional Japanese calligraphy paper. It is lightweight, absorbent, and slightly translucent.
  • Shitajiki (Mat): This soft mat provides a comfortable surface for writing.

History of Calligraphy in Japan

You’d be surprised to know that Japanese calligraphy has its roots in ancient China. Back in the day, calligraphy, known as Shufa in the region, flourished. It was introduced to Japan in the 6th century CE, along with Buddhism and other aspects of Chinese culture. Over the centuries, Japanese calligraphy developed its own distinct style. It blended the influences of Chinese culture with Japanese traditions to form a valued way of expression today.

Calligraphy has now found many uses in Japan. It is practiced as a form of meditation and helps foster concentration. Calligraphy is also a means of communication: it is used to convey messages of peace. In traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony and flower arrangement, Shodo helps add elegance to the setup.

Best Japanese Calligraphy Classes in Japan 

Now that you know all about Japanese calligraphy, it’s time to consider a calligraphy experience for your next trip! There are plenty of offers on the market, but I selected the best calligraphy class and the cheapest, for both Kyoto and Tokyo, for a total of four calligraphy workshops in Japan. All of them are suitable for learning Japanese calligraphy for beginners.

If you have the budget or are really interested in Japanese calligraphy, I recommend going for the best courses. Your experience will be on a whole different level. The cheapest options are a great choice if you’re on a budget but still want to experience a Japanese calligraphy class.

Getsuren Waraku, Wabunka [Best in Kyoto]

Japanese Calligraphy class in Kyoto in historic samurai mansion
Japanese calligraphy master Getsuren during this experience. Photo credit: Wabunka

The best of calligraphy class in Kyoto can be experienced with Wabunka. They offer a private room for calligraphy and painting, with instructions from the master calligrapher Getsuren. You will dress in a training gi beforehand. During the process, you get to grind ink from inkstone, learn ink painting techniques, and try ink painting alongside calligraphy. Plus, you can take the end product with you.

Location: Waraku, a historical samurai mansion a few blocks south of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle

Price: ¥19,000/person ($126), minimum 2 persons, private event with interpreter/guide

Private Japanese Calligraphy Class in Kyoto [Cheapest in Kyoto]

A budget-friendly traveler’s pick can be this private Japanese calligraphy class in Kyoto. Here, you will learn correct brush movements to make kanji characters. With these characters, you can write your name—and take it back home as a keepsake. Calligraphy tools are included, as well as an original booklet.

Location: SAKURA Experience Japanese Culture Nijo Home, Kyoto

Price: ¥8,800/person ($59)

Kasetsu, Wabunka [Best in Tokyo]

Interior of a traditional Japanese house in Tokyo where Japanese calligraphy classes are hold
You will do this calligraphy experience in this beautiful setting. Photo credit: Wabunka

This calligraphy workshop in Tokyo offers private sessions under the master calligrapher Kasetsu. You get to select one of three key characters (wood, person, and hand) for your group to work with. For the tools, you will be given top-quality ink, inkstones, and brushes, including weasel fur and guinea fowl feathers. You’ll also get to review your work over tea—and receive feedback on your creation.

Location: Yanaka neighborhood, Tokyo, inside Idaten, a traditional ceramics shop

Price: ¥32,000/person ($212), minimum 2 persons, private event with interpreter/guide

Private Calligraphy Culture Experience in Tokyo [Cheapest in Tokyo]

If you’re hoping to save a dime, this calligraphy class guarantees one of the lowest prices on the market. You will write your own name in Japanese—or your favorite words in kanji. When done, you’ll take home a piece of colored paper or a Japanese fan called uchiwa.

Location: Bedgasm Bar&Cafe, Taito, Tokyo

Price: ¥3,000/person ($20)

Final Words

Shodo offers a window into the Japanese spirit. It teaches us the importance of mindful practice and connecting with tradition. Another takeaway is finding the beauty in simplicity. Japanese calligraphy is a reminder that art is not just about the final product, but about the journey of creating it.


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