Home > Arts & Crafts, History, Interviews > Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) Master Shoho Teramoto & The Enso Of Zen

Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) Master Shoho Teramoto & The Enso Of Zen

Japanese calligraphy is an art-form that can reveal the depth of enlightenment and the personality of the artist!

Many of us are familiar with Japanese calligraphy.  Although we may not know the meaning of a particular character, its formation is instantly recognisable as being a symbol of the Far East which in itself is just a communication tool.  However, as the calligrapher forms a spiritual union with his/her brush and ink it then becomes known as ‘Shodo’, meaning to express the ‘way’ of calligraphy.

‘Do’, or ‘way’ can be found in many forms of Japanese art such as Judo, Kyudo (Archery) and Kado (aka Ikebana or flower arranging).  Although there are obvious differences between them and their movements, the meaning of ‘do’ in each word is the same.

Zen Buddhist monks applied Shodo to form a circular image known an ‘Enso’ – the symbol of enlightenment.  At first glance the pictogram may appear to be just a circle.  But its symbolism represents the spiritual growth of the artist – the brushwork, which include dragging, pressing, and sweeping techniques, reveals the depth of enlightenment he/she has reached up to that point.  “It is said to be a picture of the mind” explains award winning calligrapher Shoho Teramoto, “because the circle projects one’s mind directly. The enso expresses much more than words.”

Shoho Teramoto and the enso for World Rowing Organisation (Photo ©World Rowing Organization All rights reserved)

Shoho was born in Fukuoka, Japan and started studying traditional calligraphy at the age of six under the watchful eye of her mother, a master of the art form whom had many students.  Shoho was also taught by various other masters, and then in 1995 she entered Fukuoka University Education and went on to take a master course in calligraphy.  After completing the course, Shoho taught calligraphy for 11 years at various schools and culture centres. Her work has won many awards and has appeared in several exhibitions, books and on posters throughout Japan. She moved to London with her husband in April 2010 where she continues to teach calligraphy.

Working closely with the UK-based creative agency, Cravens FISA, the World Rowing Organisation commissioned Shoho in early 2011 to create a new brand logo for them.  They saw a connection between the one-stroke Zen philosophy behind an enso and that of an ideal motion made by an oar – ‘The body, boat and the water working in perfect harmony’.

“As a Japanese calligrapher, I was impressed by their idea” says Shoho. ”At the same time I was surprised that there was a similarity between rowing and the enso of Zen.  It was difficult to draw the emblem according to their concept because the circle always reflected my mind.”

World Rowing Organization promo film featuring Shoho Teramoto

She studied the movements of rowing and practised drawing more than 200 circles on large sheets of paper measuring 70cm square.  Her creating the enso can be seen on the World Rowing promotional film – she drew the circle 40 times during the days filming before one was finally chosen.  The logo is now a promotional fixture at all World Rowing games and events, and will be used during the 2012 Olympic games of rowing.  Can you see Shoho’s mind in the enso?

It is impossible to duplicate another enso, for each one reflects the mind of the artist at a given moment, as Shoho previously mentioned, and therefore is exclusive to them. Shoho philosophises: “The Zen spirit is to discover the nature of one’s own being, to know what’s inside one’s mind and to find something new for each one.”

Calligraphy, which has its roots in China dating back to around 1700 BCE and came to Japan in the sixth century, is seen as being the highest form of art in Japanese culture. “Japanese people have improved their own inner self and humanity through this skill. In our education system” continues Shoho, “children begin to learn the basic skills of Japanese calligraphy from the age of nine.  They master things like how to write the words correctly and beautifully. In addition they will develop attitudes, concentration, etiquette, and endurance.”

Award-winning Shodo master Shoho Teramoto (Photo ©Shoho Teramoto All rights reserved)

Shoho, who has acquired those traits, is proficient in the Ryokan style of calligraphy.  Ryokan (1758-1831), whose pet name was Taigu, which means ‘Old Fool’, was an eccentric Zen monk who was a master calligrapher and a major figure in poetry.  He was a kind man who lived a simple hermit life in a small hut called Gogo-an on Mt. Kugami. His works are still very much respected and loved today and a statue has been carved in his honour and stands at Entsuji in Japan.

Visually, an enso appears simplistic, but its true nature is much more complex and highly involved. In Zen, enso symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body and spirit create with the brushed ink of the circle being performed in one movement – one stroke, one chance.  Often the circle is drawn complete representing perfection, or incomplete with an opening signifying that it is part of something much greater and that imperfection is vital to existence.  Unlike other forms of art work, there is no possibility of modification.  The perfect enso is achieved by having “no-mind”. The brush stroke should be guided by the spirit, not the wrist. It should be performed without effort.

Enso – Hakuin (Photo ©Shoho Teramoto All rights reserved)

To those with a trained eye, your enso can reveal your personality and your spiritual level. They can tell at what speed and pressure the circle was made and your state of mind at that precise moment.

The key to creating the perfect enso is to be at one with yourself and to have total concentration; for your mind, body and spirit to be in unity. Your spiritual transformation will be reflected in your enso. It’s not so much a question of how skilful you must be as a calligrapher, but rather how much you must advance spiritually.  In a sense, an enso is the effect of the cause.  If your mind is correct, the brush will be correct.  The perfect enso can only be achieved when we have advanced to the highest level spiritually and we have become enlightened, at peace with ourselves and the world in which we live, free from all disturbances.  Shoho points out that “The individual circle is widely variable from day to day, depending on one’s mind at that time.”

So in its simplest form an enso is a spiritual expression of the artist – a picture of the mind – and like the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu, each moment is unique, never to be repeated. Therefore, the painting of an enso teaches us to live in the moment, reminding us that all we have is now.

Byobu – traditional Japanese folding screen (Photo ©Shoho Teramoto All rights reserved)

Shoho encourages everyone to try drawing an enso as she wants everyone to have an amazing experience; not only adults, but children too!  In September 2011 at a Japanese festival in London, Shoho organised an enso project and welcome more than 200 people of all ages to try this beautiful, majestic art.  The children in particular concentrated very hard and enjoyed drawing their first ever enso.

From the brush of a beginner, there is much that is unpredictable which interests Shoho. “Sometimes they are unable to control the line because the ink runs out, the edge of the line becomes blurred as the ink is absorbed by the paper, and it is difficult to shape the hook and so on.  One’s character and spirit is reflected in the circle.”

The basic implement of calligraphy is a brush which is often made from bamboo and animal hair such as goat.  It is dipped into ink made from an ink stick (a compressed mixture of vegetable soot and glue) grinded with water on an ink stone to achieve the correct liquid consistency (a cheaper alternative is to use bottled ink).  Good quality paper with a consistent rate of absorption should always be used.

Try creating an enso yourself. How will you draw it?  Will your circle be complete or will it have an opening?  Will its shape be thick or thin?  Where will you start your circle, at the top, to the left, to the right or from the bottom?  Can you see your mind in your enso?

A selection of Shoho’s Enso works (Photo ©Shoho Teramoto All rights reserved)

Would you like to draw an enso? Follow these simple steps:

  • Imagine your circle (Enso)
  • Concentrate
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
  • Prepare for the ink and brush
  • Draw your circle (Enso).  One chance, one stroke! 

The tools you will need are known as “The Four Treasures”:

  • Brush (Fude)
  • Ink (Sumi)
  • Stone (Suzuri)
  • Paper (Kami)

Shoho Teramoto is available by appointment for workshops, group lessons, lectures, and calligraphy demonstrations for your school, workplace, club or organisation. She also teaches private one-on-one calligraphy lessons at her home in London. For more information, please email her at shouhou.japan@gmail.com

Official Website: www.shohoteramoto.com

Japanese calligraphy tools shop -kissho!-
The world’s biggest japanese calligraphy tools shop, kissho! You can purchase any japanese calligraphy tools that you want on their shop.

This article was written by Spencer Lloyd Peet (Administrator) and first appeared in Kindred Spirit issue 115 Mar/Apr 2012

About Kindred Spirit:

First published in 1987 Kindred Spirit is the ultimate global guide to positive change. Available bi-monthly each issue covers a range of varied subjects such as spiritual growth, personal development, complementary therapies, travel, health and much more.

Official Website: www.kindredspirit.co.uk

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