what can text mean. An autoethnography on Calligraphy 書道


Personally, my handwriting has always been terrible, I can’t do cursive and being left-handed I’ve always struggled to not smudge or heavy press while writing and making dark thick lines. While not having any real experience growing up with other cultures language until I was in my late teens. We then got Japanese exchange student and one of them while over here made me a cross-stitch of her favourite Pokémon Togepi and while back then I couldn’t read her name signed on it or the word トゲピ (Togepi) I knew what it meant.

At the time I already had other passions like programming and music which I also now have a heavy Japanese influence in with learn about Japanese RPG’s and owning guitars from Japan and knowing how to play Japanese band’s songs now. I remained detached from the language and really looking back wish I had a chance to study it at a school level to have understood a lot more back when things of Japanese culture like Anime, Manga, JPOP and Calligraphy (書道sho-do) were becoming more exposed in Australia.

Now that I’m learning Japanese at a university level, I want a deeper understanding of why Japanese calligraphy is important to those that use the language and how writing like it’s an art form can express more than just the words penned.


My methodology for this assessment was first to conduct information gathering on the strict techniques and stroke orders used in Japanese calligraphy, I also looked at techniques that help to memories Japanese words and kanji characters and learnt from a variety of sources so that my reflective response and my analyses of my own calligraphy would help me understand calligraphy and what it means to Japanese culture (Ellis, et al 2011).

So much of my research was about technique, how traditional and contemporary methods of undertaking calligraphy change calligraphy and the art presented would look. But this just wasn’t giving me a deeper connection to the words being penned. Following the YouTuber 宮崎書道教室渋谷教室 Japanese Calligraphy Class SHIBUYA, TOKYO and learning how to write愛 (LOVE) with Gyosho style (semi-cursive),

while this increased my technical skills in calligraphy I still didn’t feel as though what I produced was art and I felt like I wasn’t really connecting to Japanese culture because this important skill is passed down from generations, emphasizing a beauty and balance in writing and I just was seeing words while written in various ways I didn’t feel I was creating aesthetically beautiful and emotionally relevant work (Enkamp, 2010). I also attempted to film this experience for review but didn’t like anything I filmed so I trashed the recording out of discontent for it. Now you could say I had a lot of epiphanies (Ellis, et al 2011) at this stage and you may be right. Things like how growing up with a simplistic lettered language, how cursive is dead in English handwriting or how the digital age has separated us from writing but personally I felt I was just getting frustrated at a creative/mental block between me and my work.

So, this made me rethink my methodology of this autoethnography I started looking at more unconventional methods of learning about calligraphy from watching elementary school kids learn how to write in class in YouTube videos to tattoo artist drawing characters or phrases on people and it wasn’t till I fell back on a Japanese culture favourite anime did I find what I was actually looking for. Barakamon is an anime about Seishuu Handa an emerging calligrapher but more importantly a talented calligrapher that an expert label his award-winning piece as not expressive merely book technique on canvas. While the series helped me better appreciate how to express calligraphy as art real what helped me was the opening intro.

The intro music and opening animation of the brush skating along allowed me to probably have my biggest epiphany. Music and how I actually learnt guitar which was though tabs and chords I didn’t learn how to read music or the techniques but though just playing till I could. With that I took the characters and stroke orders and with them in mind but not trying to make a recreation based on techniques I penned a famous Japanese poem line “burning incense to the king” which is actually Chinese in origin but has relevance with the new emperor of japan being sworn in which I was also watching at the time. What I created I genuinely felt had expressed something else to me and when signing my name in Japanese on the side I felt like it was actual art, not just text.

What I attained in the end though this autoethnography was that music is a great artistic motivator and that learning calligraphy is easy but mastering it or being content with your work is the hard part. So, for all those profession calligrapher’s actual presenting essentially text as an artwork that you feel express something, I now revere them as more artistic then painters. If the saying a picture is worth 1000 words is true, then make a single letter or a small phrase mean 1000 is far more a challenge.


Jesse Enkamp. (2010). Kaisho, Gyosho and Sosho. Available: https://www.karatebyjesse.com/kaisho-gyosho-and-sosho/. Last accessed 2/11/2019.

Ellis, Carolyn; Adams, Tony E. & Bochner, Arthur P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview [40 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Art. 10, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1101108.

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