Japanese Kanji derives from its root language of Chinese, which is one of a very small number of distinct languages. Chinese has no pre-cursor, and no external influence, meaning it developed in isolation as a unique and pure form of communication.
Kanji are essentially pictographic symbols, similar in function to Egyptian hieroglyphs. However, kanji are extremely abstract and interpretive representations of things, thoughts, concepts, feelings and ideas, rather than being a sort of pictographic alphabet.
There are hundreds of kanji, and thousands of ways to interact individual conceptual symbols to create intricate expressions.
Being so abstract, and open to artistic indulgence, the written language becomes an art form in itself. The Eastern masters of artistic writing are known as Calligraphers, and each brush stroke of the kanji represents a stage in the journey of its depiction. Similar to meditation, the scribing of kanji can be used to transition from one form of consciousness to another.
Regardless of ones level of knowledge of this artful language, kanji is on every level beautiful to look at. Whether in flowing, swirling cursive styles or straight, angular block-work calligraphy, it has a beauty of form and a calming effect as one traces the brush strokes with the eye.
As a kid I practised western calligraphy, then later took it up again as an adult. There are many fine calligraphic scripts to learn, and because of its artistic basis there is scope for the inclusion of design of an ever increasing intricacy into ones compositions.
Having successfully learned all 26 of our alphabet’s letters I found myself drawn to the eastern languages, and focussed particularly on the Japanese scripts of kanji, hiragana and katakana.
Kanji often appear complicated, even seeming as though their complexity is intrinsic to their design. This, however, is not the case, and over the centuries the characters have been refined and simplified to make them as basic and clear as possible.
Take a look at the pictures below of kanji I recently scorched and trace the brush strokes with your eyes. Feel each flick and flourish of the brush and practise writing them yourself, and before you know it you will have committed to memory your first kanji.
Next time I’ll explain a little of the meanings of these kanji, explore their alternatives, and tell you why I chose them. But for now, konbanwa – that means good evening.