In recent years, Japanese calligraphy called “SHODŌ (書道)” is getting more and more attentions from the world.
When you go to an exhibition of SHODŌ, you will feel tense and strained atmosphere which are coming out of each work, sort of vital energy.
This is because each writing was done in real earnest and concentration, I suppose.
To practice SHODŌ, repeatedly imitating one’s example is commonly recommended.
As you make progress, however, the imitation is pursed to be more sophisticated and complete even aiming at copying the stroke of brush and its shading.
Of course you don’t know exact sequence of stroke actually used when the example was written, but you do it anyway by guessing.
The practice method of this level is called “RINSHO (臨書)”.
To become a professional calligrapher, it is said that you need doing this for more than 8 hours every day.
For RINSHO, writings done by three famous Japanese ancient calligraphers called “SAN-PITSU (三筆)” are often used as examples.
Of them, “FŪSHINJŌ (風信帖)” by KŪKAI (空海) is said to be one of the best masterpiece used as an example for RINSHO for more than 1,200 years.
It is not too much to say that there is no Japanese professional calligraphers who has never used this as an example for his/her RINSHO.
Now, let’s take a look at the picture of “FŪSHINJŌ”.
You may wonder why this is one of the best masterpiece of Japanese calligraphy…as they are written in the mix of cursive style (草書SŌSHO) and semi-cursive style (行書GYŌSHO) and the characters are not very “organized” in terms of a total balance.
However, looking at each character more carefully, you may notice that there is a secret communication with neighbors although most of them are independent (visually unconnected).
In addition, as you can see for example, the character of “川” (KAWA, meaning a river) in the second page in the red circle, he writes by very strong, paper-slashing and scratching brushwork. However like the last line on the second page, he also writes in a light and smooth manner giving a freehearted atmosphere full of variety to his work.
It is easy to imagine that KŪKAI wrote these letters freely, naturally without any calculation or intention to make a masterpiece while this is considered to be unprecedentedly valuable and of highest aesthetic sensibility for long time.
Knowing that he also learnt the writing style of Chinese famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303–361) or Yan Zhenqing (709–785), for sure, KŪKAI also made tremendous efforts in imitating the works of those masters before establishing his own style.
By the way, when I get a little tired in the middle of RINSHO, I ponder sometimes on KŪKAI, great Japanese calligrapher, wondering about the efforts he made and what was in his mind when he wrote the FŪSHINJŌ.
Then sometimes I succeed in writing my best smoothly as if my brush got a soul.
This makes me realize that in SHODŌ (書道), the way to master calligraphy, being taught is not the right thing.
Going forward on this “way” by making step by step efforts is eventually the right and effective thing to achieve one’s masterpiece powerful enough to let exhibition visitors feel sort of vital energy.