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Japanese Calligraphy: The art of the brush stroke

Japanese calligraphy is known as shodō or shūji in Japanese, the way of writing, is a form of calligraphy or artistic writing within the Japanese language where letters and symbols are created by hand using a brush dipped in ink. This is a beautiful art form as well as a means of communication. The ability to carry out Japanese calligraphy is a skill passed down from generation to generation as it requires a lot of training to master. Let’s take a look at how Japanese calligraphy has adapted to become the art form we know it as today.

Japanese calligraphy symbols and style

The symbols and characters created in Japanese calligraphy are known as kana and kanji. These are drawn using a series of vertical, horizontal and angled brushstrokes to make each symbol or character completely unique. Kana are symbols that represent syllables and don’t have specific meanings, on the other hand, kanji are more complex. There are more than 100,000 kanji, each with their own specific meaning. In Japanese calligraphy, kanji are symbols for words or ideas, like luck, peace and happiness, along with more common and inanimate objects and items, such as dog or fire.
When it comes to the style of Japanese calligraphy, there are three main types. The first is kiasho, a block style that is also the most common. Second is gyosho, a running hand style that is semi-cursive and lastly, sosho, known as grass hand, a flowing, graceful and cursive style of Japanese calligraphy. Most Japanese calligraphers are traditionally trained in both Chinese and Japanese scripts, with the styles and scripts used being influenced by both the content of the text and the aesthetic considerations. Due to the intricate style and perfection idealism of Japanese calligraphy, students who learn the art are taught the importance of proper breathing just like students of Zen meditation and martial arts; the calligrapher only has one chance to get it right.

Calligraphy’s chartered history

Japanese calligraphy developed from Chinese writing symbols around 2,000 years ago. During this time, Japan was yet to have developed a written form of language, therefore people began to adapt characters from Chinese writing into Japanese forms and symbols. This process was gradual and slow to start but began to continue into the 5th and 8th Centuries. The developments of this adapted language led to complete changes in Chinese symbols, taking time to develop a unique Japanese written language that would later be used in traditional Japanese calligraphy. One of the main differences between the two languages is the combination of kana and kanji, those of which are not found in Chinese calligraphy.
From the 8th Century through to the 14th Century, many people continued to adapt Chinese symbols into Japanese kanji, however, other artists began developing unique forms of Japanese calligraphy letters and symbols.

Tools for Japanese calligraphy

When it comes to the creation of Japanese calligraphy, a special set of tools, papers and techniques are required. Commonly, Japanese calligraphy requires a fade brush, sumi ink, a suzuri inkwell, hanashi paper, a shitajiki felt pad and a bunchin paperweight. These items all come in different varieties and a whole host of price ranges, allowing beginners and advanced Japanese calligraphers to personalise their calligraphy tools.
The crafting of Japanese calligraphy uses two ways to hold a brush. With the tankoho method, the brush is held like a pencil with the thumb, index and middle finger, the sokoho style, however, also uses the ring finger. Alongside tools and brush holding styles, the paper also plays an important role. There is a variety of different paper choices to be selected when it comes to Japanese calligraphy, especially since the practice has become more modernised. Typically, white paper is used for kanji and letter paper for brush writing or sending more personalised letters. This paper comes in a variety of patterns, colours and thickness so that calligraphers can choose the right paper to complement their brush strokes.
At Atelier Japan, we powerfully encapsulate the ancient artisanal past of Japan and articulate it for the modern audience. Our traditional makers have taken both care and time to create authentic Japanese products for you to enjoy using their expertise honed over generations. Browse the Atelier Japan website to discover our collections of teas, fans, pottery, silverware and jewellery for a truly exquisite Japanese experience.

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Japanese Textiles: A handcrafted history

Japanese textiles have played a long and important role throughout Japanese culture for many years. The creation of Japanese textiles is highly intricate and needs an abundance of skill and talent that only a few Japanese weavers and dyers have. Commonly, Japanese textiles use a range of materials including silk, hemp, ramie and cotton, the majority of which are given a range of weaves and decorative treatments to produce textiles of distinctive design and exceptional aesthetic merit.

Woven Textiles

When it comes to Japanese textiles, an inordinate amount of skill goes into each and every piece. Japanese textiles most commonly use plain twill weave, satin weave and brocade to create unique pieces, with the wide variety of techniques possessed by textile workers across Japan reflecting the true attention to detail found in each and every piece. Commonly, patterned twill and twisted warp-gauze have been used together since the Nara Period to achieve feminine styles such as loose trousers known as hakama and stiff jackets known as kamishimo.


Embroidery has always played a fundamental part in Japanese textiles, providing the detail in many of the beautifully intricate pieces that are found across the country today. Embroidery came into popularity in connection with Buddhism and was originally used to create mesmerising wall hangings in temples that usually depicted pictorial scenes and landscapes.
Japanese textiles that feature embroidery use only a small selection of stitches including French knots, chain stitch, satin stitch and couched satin stitch. In garments, particularly the well-known kimono, embroidery is applied to a variety of already dyed fabrics such as vat-dyed plain weave silk textiles and silk stains that are dyed using techniques that include the shibori and katazome. The embellishment is used on these dyed textiles to decorate them and enhance their look for a exquisite finished piece.


The unique beauty that you often find in Japanese textiles is a result of extensively developed dyeing techniques that have evolved over centuries by ancient textile makers. These textile dying techniques include paste-resist, shape-resist, ikat, the binding of pre-arranged warp or weft yarns and combinations of different methods, all to achieve bold and unique styles. Since the Japanese textiles industry began, many methods have come and gone from fashion. These included wax-resist dyeing known as batik, which was replaced by paste-resist methods such as stencils known as katazome and freehand dying known as tsutsugaki,  the finished result of which is highly intricate.
Shaped resist dyeing is often referred to as shibori, which in Japanese literally means tie-dyed and is one of the more popular methods of dying Japanese textiles. Generally, the term refers to dyeing the cloth and creating a unique design by binding, twisting, folding, stitching or compressing the fabric. These binding methods are often known as bound-resist, and are regarded as a very refined and precise way to achieve the stunning colours used in Japanese textiles such as kimonos.

Decorative Stitching

Many years ago, Japanese farm women developed a technique for salvaging and reusing worn cotton textiles by stitching them together in varying layers for use in jackets, aprons and other protective garments. This practice of remaking Japanese textiles quickly caught on. The technique of quilting and stitching the textiles is known as sashiko and developed from a practical way of using cloth to create a unique craft of decorative stitching. Sashiko is almost always carried out using white cotton and thread on indigo-dyed cotton cloth, where stitches run parallel to the wrap to create an elaborate geometric pattern.

Contemporary Japanese Textiles

When it comes to contemporary Japanese textiles, there are four main categories in which textiles can be considered. Firstly commercial textiles. Commercial textile production of man-made fibres and materials once played an important part in Japan’s post-war recovery, however, recent times have seen a decline in production with this being moved to countries with lower labour costs. Traditional Japanese textiles, on the other hand, continue to flourish. The Japanese government continuously encourages the preservation of traditional arts and crafts through its subsidies so as not to leave ancient and cultural textile traditions behind.
Alongside traditional Japanese textiles, fashion textiles have also seen significant support and interest over the last few years. Fashion textiles are being used by some of Japan’s international fashion designers. Lastly, art textiles or fibre arts are another form of Japanese textiles and are thriving in Japan’s contemporary art scene with a number of pieces receiving international recognition through exhibitions.
Looking to explore more traditional Japanese crafts and art? Why not browse the rest of the Atelier Japan website where you can discover our bespoke collections of traditional fans, silverware, pottery and tea that have all been handcrafted by some of Japan’s most skilled artisans.

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Japanese Weapons: Defense and combat

When it comes to Japanese weapons, most envision a warrior or samurai with a sword and not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for fighting with supreme efficiency. However, Japan’s ancient warriors also took to lesser-known weaponry that was possibly more interesting. Let’s take a look at some of Japan’s unique weapons from years gone by.

The Katana

Japanese weapons are incredibly unique, with the Katana being one of Japan’s most famous. Japanese weapons are typically made by highly trained and skilled blacksmiths, and the Katana is no exception. Japanese blacksmiths’ method of repeatedly heating and folding the steel made the Katana’s sharpness and strength unique amongst the world’s swords. known for its strength and sharpness, the Katana earned the reputation as the soul of the samurai, a reputation that lasted long after the samurai abandoned Japanese weapons for the pen in a focus on education.

Fans of War

In ancient Japan, fans weren’t just implements intended to provide relief from summer’s heat and humidity but were traditional Japanese weapons. War fans varied in size, materials, shape, and use. One of the most significant uses was as a signalling device. These signalling fans came in two varieties; a fan that has wood or metal ribs with lacquered paper attached, and a metal outer cover or a solid open fan made from metal and or wood.
Traditionally, the commander would raise or lower his fan and point in different ways to issue commands to Japanese soldiers. War fans could also be used as Japanese weapons, with the art of fighting with war fans being known as tessenjutsu.

Kiseru Battle Pipes

Kiseru is a Japanese weapon derived from a smoking pipe traditionally used for smoking a small serving of kizami, a finely shredded tobacco product. During the Edo period, Japanese weapons were frequently used as objects for flaunting financial status. Since the general population were prohibited from carrying sharper Japanese weapons, an elaborate Kiseru carried slung from the waist often served the purpose. Although not all were designed for fighting, a glance at pipe’s size and weight might give away its user’s intent.


Although the Manriki-Kusari gained fame as a ninja weapon, police officers actually adopted these Japanese weapons to disarm and capture criminals. The collapsible chain could be rolled up, concealed and easily transported. When it comes to Japanese weapons, the  Manriki-Kusari served many functions; it could be used for climbing, restraining an enemy, and could be wrapped around body parts for extra protection.


As the original samurai weapon, the Japanese bow has a long and bespoke history. Isolation from other cultures allowed Japan to develop its own unique archery tools and techniques, amongst other Japanese weapons. Japan’s oldest hunting and ceremonial bows date back to 10,000 BCE and, without the wood binding technology of other countries, Japan was able to develop very long wooden bows, some over 2.5 meters, to maximize their power.


The Fukiya is one of many Japanese weapons that is associated with ninjas, as depicted in 17th-century ninja scrolls. These blow-darts made little noise, were easy to transport and could double as flutes, pipes, or breathing straws. Where materials were limited, bamboo or paper would be used as substitutes. Poisoning the darts made these Japanese weapons extra effective against the enemy. Today, Fukiya has evolved into an international sport, similar to archery.


Widely known as throwing, ninja, or Chinese stars, these traditional Japanese weapons are known most commonly as hand-hidden blades.  The art of wielding the shuriken is known as shurikenjutsu and was taught as a minor part of the martial arts curriculum of many famous schools. Although they come in various shapes and sizes, the classic throwing star with multiple points spun in flight is smaller and more manageable and therefore required less skill to throw than long throwing knives or other Japanese weapons.
At Atelier Japan, our makers have stood the stead of time, prevailing among huge global disturbances and remaining unwilling to go backwards. Our makers have taken care and time to create authentic Japanese fans, pottery, tea and silverware from authentic materials for you to enjoy. Browse the Atelier Japan website to discover our unique collections.