SHODO – The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy –

September 4, 2014 Juju Kurihara Arts, Books, Culture, Vocabulary Tags: 23 Comments


This book SHODO – The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy – can be enjoyed in two ways. One is to start and to practice Calligraphy and two is as an introduction to Zen philosophy. Oh, and for those who are interested in both.

The author, Shozo Sato is a master of traditional Zen arts, and has received the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan for his contributions in teaching Japanese traditions. He is also specialised in ikebana (生け花), sado (茶道), Japanese theatre as well as sumi-e (墨絵).


Calligrapher is my another profession. I started reading this book as a part of my calligraphy practice. It explains the history of Kanji (漢字) and how Hiragana (ひらがな) and Katakana (カタカナ) have developed from Kanji. Kanji means "word from China" because it came from China. It was during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). Han in Chinese is written as 漢 and this character was applied to a Japanese sound, Kan and therefore it´s Kanji. Kanji spread all East Asia. Even Korea was using Kanji until 1443 until they switched to Hangeul.  

PhotoChooser-8f1a23e8-2a57-4689-977f-ead349a9cc58The book tells you all the basics to start calligraphy as the introduction. Each Kanji used for examples is explained with the idiogram, meanings and the stroke order. In this way, all the Zengo (禅語 /Zen words) are analysed.

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It also teaches you all three types of writing, Kaisho (楷書/printed style), Gyosho (行書/semicursive) and Sosho (草書/cursive or grass style). The images above are a kanjiMu (無/nothingness) in three different writing. Technically talking, it´s good to practice the same character in all three styles to understand how to simplify a Kanji. This is what I like about this book.

I have never practiced Zen but I suppose we have a lot of influences of Zen philosophy as we grew up in Japan. It´s not that we read something or learn something special but day by day, we hear or sense it at every single corner. We live in it. I must say that this book is my very first book written about Zen and I didn´t know most of Zengo until then. However, the explanations were quite familiar to me. 


Senshin (洗心) for instance means to "wash the dirt and dust from your heart and soul". I know in Zen teaching, Mu (無), emptiness is very important. One by one you need to get rid of excess such as confusion, selfishness or thoughts. As the book says it´s easy to clean our body, you just need to take a bath or a shower. Then how can you clean your soul? This is a little more difficult. 

In a Zen temple, the priests and monks dedicate a lot of time daily cleaning their temple. This reminds me my childhood when I was constantly told to clean the desk or to clean up after finishing an activity whatever that was.

I guess it´s a discussion of an egg or a chicken. You have a clean environment therefore you have a clean soul or vice versa? I don´t know but someone who leaves everything in the middle, maybe that person has a chaotic mind and can´t finish each task. I´m not a big fan of cleaning or tidying up but trying to put a little more effort to complete the action. I mean, instead of throwing a spoon into the sink and wash it later, I walk over to the sink and wash it. Then I look at the empty shiny sink. Somehow I feel lighter because I have nothing on hold.


If you like to know more about Zen and calligraphy, this book Shodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Zen Calligraphy; Learn the Wisdom of Zen Through Traditional Brush Painting is available by clicking the link.



More books about Japan

Beginning of Bonsai

The team

Second hand book shop – Book-Off –

How to make a war

More about Japanese arts

Dragon with one brush stroke

One brush dragon, Kousyuuya

More about Kanji

Kanji of the year 2013

Kanji of the year 2011

Feeling of Kanji

History of Kanji

Family name, Tanaka


  1. 6 years Reply

    In this beautiful and extraordinary zen calligraphy book, Shozo Sato, an internationally recognized master of traditional Zen arts, teaches the art of Japanese calligraphy through the power and wisdom of Zen poetry.

  2. kadafi 6 years Reply

    great !
    please give me the copy

    • Juju Kurihara 6 years

      Hello! Thank you for your interest but the give away was already finished. Sorry…

  3. maria 8 years Reply

    me parece un libro muy interesante, como llevo tiempo practicando el sumi-e me lo regalaron en mi cumpleaños , pero me resulta muy dificil porque tengo que traducirlo del ingles.
    Existe alguna traducción al castellano?
    quedaría super agradecida.

    • juju.kurihara 8 years

      Hola María.

      Qué bueno que te han regalado este libro. A mí resluta interesante este libro porque es para todo el mundo, de los principiantes de la caligrafía o la filosofía zen a los que ya tienen un nivel. Es un libro algo quieres volver a leer para siempre. De momento yo no he visto en castellano aunque sería buena idea traducirlo. Conoces a una editorial que se llama, Satori? Quizás ellos pueden darte más información.  


  4. Ezra 9 years Reply

    Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.
    I will always bookmark your blog and may come back down the road.
    I want to encourage you to continue your great job, have a nice morning!

    • juju.kurihara 9 years

      Thanks Ezra.If you like to receive our newsletter, you can even subscribe now.

  5. Thank you for your comment everyone. I really appreciate your interest. Now the winners for the giveaway are Magdalena and Goofy. Are they your contact email address? If not, please send me your contact name and email and I can send your information to the publisher. The publisher will contact you for the book.

    • Goofy 9 years

      Yes its my contact adress. 🙂

    • juju.kurihara 9 years

      Thank you, Goofy. You will receive an email from the publisher shortly and if not, please let me know.

  6. This book is already in my wish list on Amazon (I am slowly but constantly widening my collection of Shodo books), reading your review just bumped it several place towards the top.

  7. Victor 9 years Reply

    It looks like a great book! I’ve always likeed shodo even though I’ve not studied it formally for now (did sumi-e in Japan though, so I have my tools ready!) and this would make a great start.

  8. Oleñka 9 years Reply

    Great review!
    I want a copy 😀

  9. Holly 9 years Reply

    Thank you for a great review! Even if I’m not lucky enough to win, I will purchase a copy.

  10. Shinnichi 9 years Reply

    First of all, thank you for your presentation of the book by Shozo Sato.

    A work combining history. technique and philosophical aspects of shodo work, written by a Japanese expert – I think that is the work lot of traditionalists have been waiting for.

  11. Eva 9 years Reply

    Seems to be a great book about a fascinating art. I always wanted to start calligraphy practice but was sceptic about learning it alone. This book looks motivating to me

  12. Goofy 9 years Reply

    That’s the kind of the book I have been searching for – instruction, art and history in a single work. I am practicing Zazen (座禅) for some years and every now and then I thought about starting with Shodo. Maybe this book would become crucial for that. 🙂

  13. Markus 9 years Reply

    Wonderful preview, looks like a real “must-have”. Me and my girlfriend will be really happy to get a copy.

  14. Magdalena 9 years Reply

    Wow, looks like an awesome book! It will be my first shodo-related book

  15. Anja 9 years Reply

    I would like to have this book, so it can become the masterpiece of my book collection about Japanese arts

  16. Tenshi 9 years Reply

    I am a practicioner of Zen for several years and very interested in traditional Japanese culture, so this looks like a very interesting book to me.

  17. Stephan 9 years Reply

    A Japanese friend of mine is calligrapher and I would like to give it to her as a gift.

  18. Tony 9 years Reply

    It looks like a fantastic book. I’ve been interested in Zen for some time and am a card-carrying kanji otaku.

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