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  • Tomas Ballada

Jitsumu shodo(実務書道)

Practical calligraphy for workplace



Teacher (Fukui-sensei) explaining correct proportions of kanji


Contrary to what might be a common perception in the West, Japanese calligraphy is not a single monolith with only one standardised way of writing and/or teaching. Not only do the styles of the actual writing vary, where one can specialize in the kaisho (楷書 precise, neat), gyosho (行書 semi-cursive) or sosho (叢書 cursive) styles or even go further and try their hand and learning how to read and write old kanji, koten (古典), but also within this framework there are different classes with varied purposes. Standard calligraphy class tends to focus on the artistic side of calligraphy, especially if the one learning it is Japanese, and therefore already has a working knowledge of kanji.

Lately, however, a ballpen / pen calligraphy (ボ-ルペン字) has gained a lot of popularity, where the practitioner tries to works on making his or her handwriting as beautiful and dignified as possible, either for their everyday life (sending of postcards is an important part of the all-year-round life in Japan, centred around occasions such as the New Year, or even summer / winter ), or to be able to impress a potential employer (there are jobs where people may be turned down on the account of their handwriting, especially if they are expected to write documents for important clients or business partners). Like with the standard calligraphy, one would progress through the kaisho-gyosho-sosho route as well.


This blog post will be focusing on yet another style of calligraphy class, so-called Jitsumu or Jitsuyou shodo (実務 / 実用書道), or "practical calligraphy."



The author of this blog tries his hand at jitsumu shodo

This particular calligraphy style is all about practicality. More precisely, practicality connected to a workplace, or other professional areas of life. As such its focus is entirely on correct proportions, spacing, angles and clear legibility of the characters, as well as the overall balance/harmony. Kaisho is also the most widely used style, with gyosho being scarce and sosho practically non-existent since the aim here is not to create a work of art, but rather write an important document. Jitsumu shodo skills are mostly used to write certificates, envelopes used for important events and occasions, company documents that are supposed to be written by hand and so on.

A jitsumu shodo certificate can significantly boost one`s value on the job market in Japan.



Tokyo Calligraphy Education Association staff practicing jitsumu shodo

Last week Tokyo Calligraphy Education Association organised a seminar (actually a second part, and the first part had already taken place a while before that) for its employees, something which is being done on a fairly regular basis. These workshops vary in their nature, but they invariably try to keep all the members across divisions to have at least a degree of knowledge and skill as pertains to Japanese calligraphy.

Everyone first learned how to properly write their own name and home address, in accordance with the jitsumu shodo rules regarding proportions and balance. Then we practised some commonly used phrases that are usually written on envelopes given to someone on special occasions - both those of a celebration or congratulation, for example on a wedding, and the sombre ones, such as when delivering condolences.



Everybody`s work put on display

For the author, it was an interesting venture into a land as of then yet unexplored and an opportunity to see yet another face of calligraphy, this time focused not on artistic expression, but a mathematical precision and elegance of uniformly written characters on an official document. When showing a photo of a calligraphy sample done by the teacher (which served as a model for practice) to a friend, her comment was: "Wow, the sensei`s writing is so neat, it almost looks printed out."

This, I believe, sums up really well the nature of jitsumu shodo.





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