Brilliant Brushstrokes

Learning calligraphy and writing vertically instead of horizontally, as we are used to every day, is just one aspect of Japanese culture that is different from our own. Learning about a different culture provides new perspectives, challenges, and prompts questioning.

To create shōdo (calligraphy), Room 8 students used a special brush, made of horsehair, and authentic Japanese ink to write their names in one of the Japanese alphabets, called katakana. There are three alphabets in Japan - kanji, hiragana, and katakana, the latter of which is used to represent foreign words. Students first learned and practised their names with a pen.


Why does mine have a smiley face there? - Ashe

How do I write my name if there is no L or C in their alphabet? - Luca

These look like the Naruto scrolls! - Lennox

I have a poster of Japanese writing on my wall like this. - Jay

Students were able to make connections to prior knowledge, providing a foundation on which to build new learning. Providing “opportunities and support for learners to engage with, practise, and apply learning to different contexts and make connections with prior learning” is important under the Standards for the Teaching Profession (Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand).



The two main requirements for success were holding the brush firmly upright and holding it in the very centre. This felt unnatural to many, who are used to holding a pen on a slant, right at the tip. It meant going against what felt normal and reinforced that there are other ways to be ‘right’. By learning about a different language and culture, students “develop their understanding of the power of language. They discover new ways of learning, new ways of knowing, and more about their own capabilities.” (NZ Curriculum)



As a key competency, ‘Using language, symbols, and text’ holds huge importance in the curriculum. English, mathematics, and science all have their own languages, symbols, and texts. In the same way, recognising another language, with its own unique symbols and forms of text, introduces students “to new ways of thinking about, questioning, and interpreting the world and their place in it.” (NZ Curriculum)

Link to video

Keywords: Japanese, calligraphy, kanji

Video - song credit: Alone in Kyoto by Air, from the album Talkie Walkie, 2004, Virgin Records.

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