Author: jessmuscat

Digital Artefact: Learning Japanese Calligraphy

I’ve always been intrigued by Japanese culture. I was given the opportunity to study the language and culture for one year in high school but the class only taught the most basic of things. In the past year, I have also developed an interest in typography and brush lettering. This style of lettering has been developed from more traditional forms such as Japanese calligraphy, or Shodo. The research I have conducted surrounding Japanese calligraphy and how it works as an art form is a combination of personal narrative and outsourced information and data. My methodology followed Ellis, et al’s Autoethnography: An Overview. I would be using this method of research to describe and analyse my personal experience as a way of understanding this cultural experience (Ellis, et al 2011).

For my digital artefact, I created a three-part series that showcased myself using different application methods to learning the basic skills of Japanese calligraphy. As traditional shodo takes many, many years to practice and perfect, I would only be attempting to learn the stroke order of the hirigana alphabet. I explored both traditional and contemporary methods of application, which can be seen in videos two and three of the series.

Before even attempting to put a pen/ brush to paper, I researched methods of setting up materials and the correct way to prep new tools. It was during this process that I really had my first epiphany. I was so intrigued with the idea that there were so many rules out there when it came to shodo. Being told that I have to sit up straight and have two feet on the floor while writing out characters was more challenging than I thought it would be. I’ve always had poor posture and I tend to slump when I’m writing, drawing or typing, but after actually putting this rule into action, I was able to see why it may be so important in the art form that is shodo.

From this whole experience, I concluded that the more traditional form of shodo was a lot easier to learn. It was far more enjoyable to use a brush and ink to learn than it was using an app on my iPad. The common theme I found with using an app was that it was near impossible to predict the pressure you were placing on the screen. This, ultimately, affected how the hirigana character looked. I also found it difficult to feel immersed in the experience as I was simply just dragging my finger around a screen. It was such a contrast from using a brush and getting ink on my hands and fiddling with the paper. In saying this, the app also acknowledged that it was just a learning tool. When I first opened the app, it had three little ‘Must Reads’. They said “Paper, writing brush and ink are the best and proved method for calligraphy/ practicing…” and “The idea of this app is to help [focus] on the structure of glyphs and mastering the essence of calligraphy”.

All three videos contain some form of voice over. This was just to provide some context into what I was doing, what I was trying to achieve, and how I felt looking back on the experience.  This experience has instilled in me the fact that shodo is an art form and it has allowed me to understand why it is so highly regarded in Japanese culture.

Part 1: Learning the Strokes

Part 2: Saying Bye to Practice Guides

Part 3: Going Digital


Ellis, C., Adams, T., & Bochner, A. (2011). ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1).

Kim, T. (2017). Hiragana Practice Exercises – Learn Japanese.

MAIKOYA. (2017). Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo).

Schumacher, M. (n.d.). Japanese Calligraphy, Calligraphy in Japan & China. (n.d.). SHODO JAPAN|書道ジャパン.

Connecting Culture Through Food: Vietnam

Thu only moved to Australia two months ago to study at the University of Wollongong but that hasn’t stopped her from missing the food from her home country of Vietnam.

“In Vietnam, my mum usually cooked for me. I wouldn’t have to worry about what I was going to eat today. I came here and I have to do all the stuff by myself. Sometimes I just feel so lazy to cook anything so I just have instant noodles.” I could relate to Thu on a very personal level here; when I went to the UK for exchange, suddenly everything was up to me. Let’s just ignore the fact that I ate basically the same five dishes for a whole five months.

Thịt Kho. Photo credit: Bao Moi

During Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, Thu says they usually celebrate with a special occasion dish of Thịt Kho. “It’s stewed pork with egg. It’s marinated and we usually have it in Lunar New Year. A lot of families cooked a whole big pot of the stewed pork and then they just store it to eat it through the whole holiday.” Another of Thu’s favourite special occasion foods is moon cake. She said “Oh my gosh, that is my favourite! We usually have this in the mid autumn festival ­– it has so much taste.”

Moon Cake. Photo credit: Rice & Flour

One of Vietnam’s traditional dishes is pho and Thu explains that living in different parts of the country means that you will more than likely cook it differently. “The north side, south side and middle have a different way of cooking this dish. People in the north side prefer salty food but in the south side, people prefer to like the sweetness.” Pho in the north is much more traditional than that in the south. Northerners prefer to stick with the simple base of beef bones, with banh pho noodles, beef and herbs but communities in the south would much prefer to add anything they like to the dish (Wilson, n.a). Vietnam’s tropical climate allows for a large variety of herbs and vegetables to be grown, making them a staple in a lot of dishes that would be simple otherwise.

Chicken Pho. Photo credit: The Works of Life

Vietnam Online points out that Hanoi supplies more authentic and original food, Hue boasts about its royal status, while Ho Chi Minh City has the most inclusive dining with flavours of India, Japan, Spain and Greece creeping through.

One of Vietnam’s staple foods is fish sauce. Thu says that “It’s a traditional sauce in Vietnam and we use it in almost every dish.” It’s also super common to have a bowl of fish sauce on the table for everyone to share when you’re dining in Vietnam. Some believe that the bowl of fish sauce represents Vietnamese solidarity but others say the bowl is the root on most bad personality traits. (Vietnam Online, n.a) I found it so interesting that something like food could be connected to something greater like solidarity or one’s personality.

Thu mentioned that her mum usually did the cooking at home and when her dad had to cook, he mostly stuck to simple dishes, like soup. “We usually have hot soup when we are sick with a lot of peppers and onions because we believe those ingredients will help us improve our immune system…”


Debicki, M 2011. ‘Flavours of Asia’. Good Health (Australia Edition). p.178

Graf, C 2012, ‘TET: CELEBRATIONS THE NEW YEAR’, Faces, p. 22.

Wilson, R (n.a.). ‘The Different Flavours of Asian Culture’. City Pass Guide.

‘Food Culture’. Vietnam Online. Available at:

Analysing My Experience With Calligraphy

Two weeks ago I blogged my first serious attempt at Japanese calligraphy. As mentioned by Ellis et al (2011), I must compare and contrast my personal experience from my previous blog post with already exisiting research. The main point from my previous post is that I found it much easier using a brush, ink and a piece of paper than using an app to teach myself the different strokes and techniques that are needed to learn how to write Japanese calligraphy.

I think this ideal correlates directly with how I, as an individual, learn. I’ve always been a very kinesthetic and spatial learner. Audio books and people talking directly towards me when they’re trying to teach me something new is completely useless. I’ve found that I always need something to follow along with, or a book to take down notes. The physical act of writing something down has always made it much easier for me to remember particular techniques when learning a new skill.

Everybody obviously has a more dominant learning style but I put mine down to how I was predominately taught in school. Laptops/ computers were rarely used at both my primary and high school. It wasn’t until we were given laptops in year 9 that I really relied on technology to learn in the classroom. In primary school, we were lucky to have a computer shared between two classrooms and we had two computer labs in the whole school. One in the library, and one next to it. The only time I ever remember using either was when we were learning to type without looking at the keyboard, and to make a very basic website. We used the labs in high school a little bit more, but not much. Our classroom learning relied very much on pen, paper and a textbook. So, I believe that by learning like this during the majority of my primary and secondary education, I still find it much easier to learn in a hands-on way compared to using an app on a hand-held device. I bet if you looked through the bag I take to uni, you’d find a handful of pens in the bottom of it and a notebook – I write down notes and ideas for every single assignment I’ve had to do during my four years of UOW.

In 2014, a UK based printing and mailing company called Docmail conducted a study that determined that one in three of the 2000 respondents hadn’t written anything by hand in the previous six months. Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva and an expert on writing argues that “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought…”. Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts agrees with Gentaz by saying “Paper allows much greater graphic freedom…”. She further describes the ability to write on both sides of a sheet of paper, manipulating and utilising it’s potential three-dimensional form and being able to physically track any changes made (Bustarret, 2014). These are all practices that can’t be achieved through apps and other software. It has also been found that drawing a letter by hand improves subsequent recognition (Gentaz, 2014). It takes years to master the motor skill. While this argument relies more on the handwriting vs typing debate, I found it very beneficial when it came to comparing the two different methods I tested out. Even though I was still technically writing on the app, it was so difficult to control the pen strokes as things like pressure aren’t at the forefront of your mind.

When starting my research on traditional Japanese calligraphy, almost every article outlined the importance of the brush, ink and even paper you should use. Hardly anybody spoke about mixing technology in with such a worshipped form of traditional art. The video below explores the idea of a robot mimicking its masters brush work. The video details that as the Japanese population is ageing and birth rates are slowing down, there’s a risk of traditional practices like calligraphy not being passed down as the gap between the young and old continues to expand.

All-in-all, the autoethnographic style of writing has allowed me to narrow down why I favour the analog technique when compared to the technological one. Ellis et al (2012) state that writing can be therapeutic as it allows for authors to make sense of themselves and the experience they are detailing. This explanation allowed me to understand that there wasn’t anything wrong with the app I used, but more so with how I take in and understand actions and processes.


Chemin, A. (2014). ‘Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?’. The Guardian. <>

Ellis, C., Adams, T., & Bochner, A. (2011). ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1). <>

Hays, J. (2013). JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY | Facts and Details. <;

Learning Japanese calligraphy with an app vs a brush and ink


書道, shodō

While on exchange in England I decided to teach myself how to hand letter and write with brush pens (just one way to entertain myself while I burrowed inside, out of the cold). I found the experience really enjoyable and even though I wasn’t very good, it was fairly easy to learn. Because of this, I’ve decided to focus my DA on learning the art of Japanese calligraphy (書道, shodō) while looking at the popularisation of brush lettering.

I studied Japanese for a year in high school but I honestly can’t remember a thing about kanji and hiragana. This will be an almost entirely new experience for me. While searching on Google for any and all information about Japanese calligraphy, I came across an app called ‘Shodo Expert’. I thought it would be interesting to compare my experience of using an app to learn calligraphy and using a more traditional method of a calligraphy brush and ink.

Shodo expert is a free app that I downloaded onto my iPhone from the app store. I found it be an extremely easy app to navigate and use but it didn’t provide the overall experience I was hoping for. I felt a bit disconnected from what I was supposed to be learning and the interface was a bit slow for my liking. There was a lot of time spent loading pages when I wanted to switch between the different characters and I was asked, after completing every character, if I wanted to save the photo to my phone. I found it a but difficult to get the correct stroke when using my finger as it was a bit hard to see where I had to stop, where in the character had a flick, etc. It might work better on a device that has a bigger screen and with a stylus, instead of a finger. I used Shodo expert in the same place that I would usually do my other hand lettering; in my bedroom. I thought that a place that was comfortable and fairly quiet would help me concentrate more. After figuring out that the app didn’t really work out for me, I went on to try the traditional method of brush lettering.


My setup

My local Eckersley’s art and crafts supplies store had everything I needed for this part. I purchased 100mL of sumi ink paste for $12.50 and a sable hair brush for around $18. This was set up in a room much bigger than my bedroom because I was worried about spilling or dripping the ink onto something. Once I got home from the shop and actually read the box that was almost entirely in Japanese (can we just talk about the fact that the Eckersley website has the ink listed as ‘Chinese Black Ink’ when it says ‘Made in Japan’ in several locations on the box…), I discovered that the ink was actually a concentrate and I would have to dilute it with water before use. How much water exactly? I wasn’t sure. After using the ink and trying to write with it, I think I mixed too much water with the concentrate and it was no longer black but a patchy grey. I had never used a brush like this before, so I watched a tutorial on YouTube while setting up to see if there were any pointers that could help me. I learnt that I would need to let the brush soak in the ink for a little bit to soften the bristles as the movement of them proved to be important when trying to write. One of the other key points from the tutorial that stuck out to me was that it was normal and expected to write slowly.

I found that using an actual brush, ink and paper was a much more enjoyable experience and is a method that’s much easier to learn from. I used the lessons from the app to pick out a couple of characters to draw out. I ended up only writing out two characters – ichi and hito – but it felt natural to be using these products that I was unfamiliar with. I’m excited to use this method more and hope that with a bit more education, I will be able to correctly write a bunch of different kanji. I will also continue to test out the app on different devices to find a way that works best for me.

Autoethnography: My Understanding

The concept of autoethnography makes me challenge almost every ideal I’ve been taught during my school years. As a journalism student, we are taught to avoid bias and remain as impartial to the research and ideas explored in every article we write. We have to, to the best of our ability, provide both sides of every story for audiences to make up their own mind. Autoethnography allows me to challenge that notion and explore how I perceive particular experiences and instances. As mentioned in Ellis’ Autoethnography: An Overview, authors often find it therapeutic to write personal stories as it helps to make sense of ourselves and our experiences (Ellis et al, 2011). By taking an auto ethnographic approach, authors are also able to question themselves to improve and understand relationships and promote change (Ellis et al, 2011).

The first time I saw the term autoethnographic, I was beyond confused. A quick Google search told me that it was a form of qualitative research used to explore personal experiences, while connecting to a wider meaning. Without any context to what we would be exploring in DIGC330, I still wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant. Ellis et al (2011) explained that autoethnography is made up of two research methodologies: autobiography (a history of a person’s life written or told by that person) and ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures).

Through this new (for me) form of research, I understand that there will be a fine line between being too personal and not critical enough and being too critical and unattached and not personal enough. One of the main critical responses to autoethnography is that it can be ‘too artful and not scientific, or too scientific and not sufficiently artful.’ (Ellis et al, 2011).

‘We know that memory is fallible, that it is impossible to recall or report on events in language that exactly represents how those events were lived and felt; and we recognize that people who have experienced the “same” event often tell different stories about what happened’ (TULLIS OWEN et al., 2009).

The quote above really caught my eye during the reading as no two people will feel exactly the same about any experience. Thoughts, feelings and backgrounds are just a couple of the factors that impact how each individual sees the world and how they experience anything.

I will be continuing my autoethnographic research by exploring the popularisation of brush lettering, while drawing on the history of calligraphy.


Ellis, C., Adams, T., & Bochner, A. (2011). ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1). Available at:

My First Godzilla Experience


Gojira (1954). Photo credit: The Focus Pull

I think this was the first black and white film, and first subtitled film I have ever watched from start to finish. Being a 21-year-old Australian, I tend to only watch films and television shows that originate in the US and Australia; sometimes ones from the UK sneak their way into the mix. Being exposed to a film that is as culturally diverse as Gojira, and as far from my comfort zone as can be, really opened my eyes.

While watching the film, I tweeted “what a cinematic masterpiece”… I’m not going to lie when I say I was being a little sarcastic at first but as the film went on and we were exposed to the film maker’s use of model work and post-film productions, such as the siren that alerted the city of Godzilla’s appearance, I really did start to believe that the film was kind of a cinematic masterpiece. Scenes like Godzilla destroying the obviously teeny-tiny train made me chuckle but still had me intrigued with the methods film makers had to use in times where technology was limited. Audiences from this time period probably found Gojira extremely dramatic, where a lot of us watching it in the tutorial found it quite funny.

I thought I was going to struggle to pay attention throughout the film as it was subtitled and I have a very short attention span – I think I have YouTube videos to thank for that now. I still remember sitting in my Year 9 Japanese class and not having any interest in the Japanese soap opera we occasionally watched. This, in turn, had me thinking that I wouldn’t have any interest in keeping up with what was happening and being said throughout Gojira but I found that even if I looked away from the screen for a period of time, I was still able to keep up. Most of this was due to the emotive acting and the loud sounds and near silence used throughout. I’m still quite amazed at how captivating the scenes that were entirely silent were. The overly staged and highly dramatic acting contributed to the viewing experience as it meant that I didn’t always have to rely on the English subtitles to understand what was happening in the scenes.

As someone who was never seen anything Godzilla related, I was completely ignorant Gojira‘s significant representations of historical and socio-political events. After the post film discussion in the tutorial and reading through both classes live tweets, it became blindingly obvious what Gojira, as a film and figure, stood for and represented at a time where Japan was struggling with who they were as a nation.