Zen and the art of Japanese calligraphy

I have found a quiet pleasure in trying my hand at Japanese calligraphy. The true art (shodo) is practiced with brushes and ink, and some say it is a way of achieving inner peace, but of course us mere mortals can simply pick up a pen and enjoy making marks on paper.

Perhaps counterintuitively it has also been a way of calming a class of boisterous seven year olds. During last Tuesday’s Japanese session some members of the Year 2 class took a while to settle and weren’t fully engaged with singing our greetings song; but when I handed out mini whiteboards and pens a certain peace descended on the classroom. Every child wanted to have a go at writing. Then a sort of Mexican wave began as children started holding up their boards to show me, with pride, that they had written トラ (tora) – tiger in Japanese. We moved on to 3 character animal words and they also rose to the challenge of 4 character words such as シマウマ (shimauma) and ライオン (raion) – zebra and lion respectively.



(shimauma – zebra or literally “striped horse”)

As well as busily scribing away, some children made observations about the Japanese script – repeated characters and what the shapes made them think of. I was blown away when one girl who had done the Lovely Languages after school club pointed out that the character ‘ka’ in カバ (kaba) – hippo – is also in her name (I had given each of the children sheets of paper with their names printed out in katakana, but that was at least 2 months ago!)

So the children aren’t at all phased by writing in a different script and some (my children included!) seem to prefer copying out Japanese kana or simple kanji to writing in English. Perhaps it’s the novelty factor or because it’s more like drawing than writing, but it has been a great way of engaging children with language learning and combining it with an element of literacy at the same time.