Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sousho: Yes, That's Japanese!

While living in Japan, I began teaching myself calligraphy. I still practice off and on, and while I'm certainly not the best, I really enjoy it and find the repetition of practicing characters relaxing.

There are three main styles of writing: kaisho (楷書 block print), gyousho (行書 semi-cursive) and sousho (草書 cursive). Sousho ("grass script") is my favorite style to practice because of its elegance and fludity. To show you how it looks, here's one of my older pieces (勇気, yuuki, "bravery")...

... and a Wikimedia file showing kaisho style on the left, and sousho on the right, for the word "sousho" 草書 itself.

The title of my post comes from an amusing incident: long story short, an American saw a piece of sousho calligraphy I'd done, and having never seen the style herself and unable to read the character I'd written, assumed I was trying to trick people with a made-up style.

Her confusion, to be fair, is understandable if you've only ever seen block print writing: sousho focuses more on the movement of the brush and the suggestion of shapes rather than what the shapes actually are. Modern Japanese have to study to be able to read many sousho characters as they've fallen out of use over time.

However, if you've learned hiragana, you're halfway to sousho even if you didn't realize it. All hiragana evolved from sousho forms of characters, as you can see in this top-to-bottom chart from Wikimedia:

You can also see sousho on a lot of old paintings, scrolls and books.

1 comment:

Kelly Maple said...

Wow, I learnt a great deal from this post! I knew that the writing on very old artworks was almost impossible to read, but I thought that was just the artist's bad handwriting. *blush*

I had no clue that it was a normal cursive font. I think I'll take up calligraphy someday, so I can learn how to read Sousho. I love appreciating old Japanese art and poetry.

Thank you so much for posting this! ^.^