Japanese vocabulary list: Calligraphy terms

By | August 25, 2020

The characters used in the Japanese language––comprised of hiragana, katakana, and kanji––use a large variety of shapes and strokes, and in my opinion are very visually pleasing. Calligraphy, a traditional art that is still popular in Japan today, takes these same characters and elevates them to a true art form that can often be seen displayed on media such as wall scrolls.

There are many online resources for leaning about Calligraphy (書道), but I wanted to make a vocabulary list to help those looking for a quick primer on some of the more commonly used words.

  • 書道 (shodou): calligraphy
  • 道具 (dougu): tool, implement, instrument [also 用具, “yougu”]
  • 習字 (shuuji): another word for calligraphy, sometimes used in the context of learning calligraph in elementary and middle school.
  • 書写 (shosha): a more modern term for calligraphy in the context of elementary and middle school, though it can also include writing with a pencil in addition to a brush. (A modern Japanese elementary school textbook I have uses this term.)
  • 文字 (moji): character [also 字, “ji”]
  • 墨液 (bokueki): the black ink used in calligraphy, typically made with pine tree soot [also 墨汁, “bokujuu”]
  • 墨 (sumi): another word for the same ink, but can also refer to a hard stick that is ground to make the ink (ink stick)
  • 固形墨 (kokeiboku): word that specifically refers to a hard ink stick
  • 硯 (suzuri): ink stone (a smooth, flat surface where a little water is poured and then the ink stick ground to produce ink)
  • 磨る(suru): to rub, file, or grind (grinding the ink stick is 墨を磨る)
  • 筆 (fude): brush
  • 小筆 (kofude): a small/fine brush
  • 大筆 (oofude): a large/coarse brush
  • 半紙 (hanshi): calligraphy paper
  • 紙 (kami): generic word for all paper
  • 水差し (mizusashi): a little water bottle to squirt water for mixing the ink
  • 下敷き (shitajiki): a mat or pad put under the paper when writing
  • 文鎮 (bunchin): a paperweight used to prevent the paper from blowing away or otherwise moving
  • 穂先(hosaki): the tip of a weapon or tool, specifically used as the tip of a calligraphy brush
  • 筆巻 (fudemaki): a mat used to roll up a brush for storage
  • 軸 (jiku): the part of the brush that you hold (also means “axis”)
  • 押さえる (osaeru): to hold something so it doesn’t move (like paper)
  • 持つ(motsu): to hold an object (can be a brush or something else)
  • 立てる (tateru): to stand up an object, or to hold it vertically (like a brush)
  • 筆使い (fudezukai): the handling of a brush
  • 書く (kaku): to write
  • 空書き (soragaki): writing without touching the paper (literally “air-writing”), often in preparation for actually using the paper
  • 傾き (katamuki): the slant of an object (such as a brush)
  • 点画 (tenkaku): general term for lines or points, essentially single strokes
  • 筆画 (hikkaku): the component parts that form a kanji
  • 点 (ten): a point (the kanji to the left has 4 of them on the bottom)
  • 横画 (yokokaku / yokkaku): horizontal stroke (ex: 一)
  • 縦画 (tatekaku): vertical stroke (the vertical part in 土)
  • 始筆 (shihitsu): the beginning of the stroke (also 起筆, “kihitsu”)
  • 送筆 (souhitsu): the middle part of the stroke
  • 終筆 (shuuhitsu): the end of the stroke (also written as 収筆)
  • おれ (ore): a bend/corner in a stroke that contains a vertical stroke and a horizontal stroke (like the second stroke of 日, which covers the top and left sides)
  • 太さ (futosa): thickness (of a stroke, etc.)
  • はらい (harai): a diagonal stroke (the last two strokes in 木)
  • 筆圧 (hitsuatsu): the pressure used in a calligraphy stroke.
  • はね (hane): a stroke that has a sudden flip up at the end (ex: the middle stroke of 小)
  • そり (sori): a stroke that begins downwards and quickly curves to one side in a diagonal fashion (ex: the bottom middle stroke of 念)
  • 曲がり(magari): a stroke that curves more gently than おれ, but less than そり (ex: the bottom right stroke of  元)
  • 画数 (kakusuu): the number of strokes in a character
  • 配列 (hairetsu): means “arrangement” in a general sense, but can apply to the relative location of characters to one another.
  • 丸み (marumi): roundness, like a character つ has.
  • 形 (katachi): general word for shape
  • 掛け軸 (kakejiku): a scroll that hangs on the wall, commonly used in calligraphy
  • 楷書 (kaisho): Style of drawing where character shapes are preserved
  • 行書 (gyousho): Style of drawing where some liberties can be taken in terms of modifying character shapes (partial freeform)
    • Both this term and the previous are actually used in Aikido to refer to the style of technique execution.
  • 草書 (sousho): Style of drawing where great liberties can be taken in terms of modifying character shapes (freeform)

See this page for diagrams of all the basic strokes: https://shodo-kanji.com/a3-4-1basic_shodo.html

Here is another page with a good diagram near the bottom: https://www.mitsumura-tosho.co.jp/kyokasho/s_shosha/koza/koza_04.html

You see more of my vocabulary lists here.

Finally, you can see this video to learn about basic stroke drawing and hear some of the above terms spoken in Japanese.

Note: the featured image for this post is calligraphy for the word 綾瀬 (Ayase), which is a city in Kanagawa. This is the attribution information: “By 克拉兔博士 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90788479″

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