The greatest Shodo calligrapher has been called “The Three Brushes” when the word is directly translated. The Three Brushes are the most evaluated calligrapher of an era. When there are two or more works of calligraphy art written in different era, it cannot be judged which of those is better because they are both arts. Therefore, the Three Brushes are selected in certain generations.
Origin of Japanese calligraphy, which is also called Shodo, began when Kanji characters were passed along from China continent. There was no written character existed in Japan until then. After a while, Shodo writing in Japan had started to develop quickly once Buddhism was propagated to Japan. Shodo has developed gradually since then, and the first “Three Brushes” were appeared at around that time.
The First “Three Brushes” Greatest Calligraphers – Kukai, Emperor Saga and Tachibana
A reason why Japanese calligraphy rapidly developed once Buddhism was propagated is that the government of the era decided to copy all the sutra and distributed in paper books. When writing became popular, some people became famous as great calligraphers. They are the first Three Brushes. Their names were Kukai, Emperor Saga and Hayanari Tachibana. They were not only copied sutra but also tried to develop original writings to make Japanese style calligraphy. Especially Kuai is considered as a leader of the three, and he made huge impact on his future generations.
This is a calligraphy written by Kukai. It is designated as a Japan’s national treasure. He has a nickname of Koubou Daishi, which name is awarded from the Emperor Daigo. His nickname, Koubou Daishi, is so famous that most of Japanese have heard the name even today!
Another Famous Three Brushes Were Appeared in Early 17th Centuries
It is the fact that the most famous and greatest Three Brushes are the ones introduced above i.e. the first Three Brushes in the history. If we list up next famous Three Brushes, then ones in Kanei era should be it.
In this era, a lot of civil wars were broken out. Dignity of the emperor of the era was deteriorated, and he finally ran away from the capital. To preserve his living rights in such a harsh era, the emperor and his clan persisted to their traditions and made a living by teaching them. Shodo calligraphy writing was one of their assets to teach to the others and earn money. For this reason, more than 50 Shodo schools had jumbled. However, most of them were similar and not distinguishable. In such a disordered era of Shodo, some calligrapher had developed evolutional styles and gained fame as the Three Brushed of Kanei era.
Each of them established their own Shodo schools, respectively, and all of them gained much popularity in the era. The work of calligraphy art shown above is made by one of the Three Brushes, Koetsu Hon-ami. Unfortuantely, no successor with enough technique had appeared, so their evolutional style was all gone by the end of their lives.
In Conclusion: And The Others
In addition to the Three Brushes described above, there are the Three Brushes in Seson-ji (10th Century), the Three Brushes in Ohbaku (17th Century), the Three Brushes in Bakumatsu (19th Century) and the Three Brushes in Meiji (20th Century). Thus, Japanese calligraphy Shodo has developed by many calligraphers and some star calligraphers appeared so far. It is still developing and professional calligraphers are acting even today, and most of Japanese people are familiar with Shodo calligraphy writing. It is not yet decided who are the Three Brushes in this era, but I’ll try to introduce hot calligrapher of today in another post.
Author - Hiro
Lived in Kyoto in school days, I was impressed by profundity of history and tradition of the city. Had a job to join the three major festivals of Kyoto: Aoi, Jidai and Gion festivals. Love Kyoto and Japanese culture.
Manager of OrientalSouls.com, selling items of Japanese culture, tradition and craftsmanship. I'll introduce interesting information about Japan!