Shodo is Japanese calligraphy. It is the written language rendered in simple, beautiful, flowing lines. Black ink, a brush, paper. Children are taught shodo in elementary school. It is a fundamental part of learning to write. When executed by a master shoka (calligraphy artist) it is an art that literally blurs the lines between writing and drawing. It is interesting to note that the Japanese word 書く (kaku) means both to write and to draw. There is no real distinction between the two.
Shodo was introduced to Japan from China around 600 AD. However, it wasn't until the middle of the 8th Century that the first truly Japanese style (wayo-shodo) emerged. As with so much of Japanese culture, the introduction of Zen Buddhism to Japan in the 12th Century also had a huge impact on the Japanese aesthetic. Bokuseki, a more expressive, unrestrained shodo style emerged around this time.
Shodo requires great concentration, but it is not technical like say, drafting. It is not meticulous or methodical. The shoka must free their mind and focus only on the meaning of the kanji character. Unlike oil painting there is but one chance to get it right. There are no corrections or redos in shodo.
Sometime last year I became acquainted with a shoka by the name of Ai Takaoka. We have since become friends. Takaoka-san has been practicing shodo for nearly 30 years and has traveled to Paris and New York to show her work and do live performances. She has drawn on cars, on bodies and even on a futon.
Recently I watched Takaoka-san perform. She was splendidly elegant in her dark kimono, hair in a dramatic up-do. She possesses a real power and intensity counterbalanced with grace and modesty. There is a lightness to her movement, like a boxer dancing around the ring. As much as the finished piece, it is this movement, these gestures - in and out, up and down - that express who she is.
In Takaoka-san's own words shodo is "an expression of gratitude".