A broadly smiling calligrapher Bunshi Tachikawa on stage describing the Edomoji he developed himself.

The Bunshi School of Edomoji

What vigorous brush strokes! These friendly looking Edomoji, or “Edo characters,” are traditional Japanese fonts that were developed in the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). Today, they haven’t lost their attraction! Now, PingMag talks to self-taught calligrapher Bunshi Tachikawa who got so much into Edomoji that he threw his experience as graphic designer over board and created a brand new style himself – now known as the Bunshi School of Edomoji. A brand new school!

Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue

Bunshi got familiar with Edomoji since he was working as a graphic designer. When visiting a friend, a Rakugo narrator, he saw his friend’s stage name written on the type of signs and Senjafuda stickers used in Japanese Vaudeville theater. That was the start of everything…

“I was taken back by the power of the letters,” Bunshi explains today. “There is no other style of writing so powerful. It is written with an upward slant to the right. It seems to mean that today seems better than yesterday, tomorrow seems better than today. That is really wonderful!”

Senjafuda stickers to be posted on shrine gates – all written by hand.

Looking at the bold Edomoji writing, Bunshi was deeply drawn to the style, and decided to throw out his fifteen years of experience as a graphic designer and to start over as a Edomoji calligrapher! You have to know that, in almost all

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cases, Edomoji calligraphers choose one style and study under a school’s master. Bunshi, however, decided not to align himself with any particular style, with the aim of creating his own new school.

Making a rough sketch in ink…
… to create a banner.

“There are special calligraphic styles for Kabuki posters, and for sumo banners, and many others, depending on the situation,” Bunshi explains. “For example, in the Japanese Vaudeville theater, there are certain well known styles and schools. There is a history and tradition in each of those worlds that must be protected. However, I wanted to push the boundaries of Edomoji, and so decided to take my own path of independent study.”

Working on a signboard for a shop…

… and filling in details with a fine brush.

And so, Bunshi studied everything about Edomoji. His appreciation of the calligraphy deepened, and he became especially interested in the artistic nature of kakuji; a very heavy rectangular style. While questioning the possibilities of the style, the Bunshi School of Edomoji was born.

The heavy rectangular kakuji, drawn in all right angles.

The character for “moon” rendered in kakuji. Below the more standard style is shown for comparison in small.

And the character for “west.” See the standard style below in small.

“Edomoji are certainly difficult to read at times,” Bunshi continues. “And there are some characters that can’t be read at all. For example, the character waki, for ‘side,’ is used in banners to display the results of sumo matches. It is difficult for ordinary people to read. However, since the very purpose of writing is to communicate a meaning, I think it needs to be updated along with the changing times. I thought I would like to create a new style that is firmly based on tradition, but that expresses something to contemporary people.”

A banner from a sumo match with characters that are difficult for modern-day Japanese to read.
Examples of Edomoji in the Bunshi style, which are much easier to read.

Today, Bunshi is using the original style he created himself in a wide variety of fields, creating signs and banners for theaters and shops, ceremonial sumo garb, jackets for festivals – and even name tags for pets!

Bunshi meets a sumo wrestler wearing a ceremonial sumo apron he made himself.

Happi jackets created for a festival.

The vibrant green lettering really stands out!

Handwritten letters on a cute paper lantern.
Writing on delicate paper fans.

Once again, the Bunshi School style of Edomoji is based on calligraphy used in Japanese Vaudeville theatre, and incorporates styles used for Edo theatre posters as well as sumo banners. However, Bunshi’s style has a distinguishing characteristic; the balance of characters. “Even when writing the same character, it is necessary to change its size depending on if I am writing vertically or horizontally; or what characters come before or after, the colour of the background and other such variables. I have to think about the overall balance, or I will ruin impact of those carefully drawn characters.

A Senjafuda tag usually has vertical writing, however this one is horizontal.

Signs placed outside a shop for good luck.

A flag created by Bunshi bearing his own name.

In addition to working as a calligraphy master, Bunshi also performs in theatre, doing unique performances that incorporate his calligraphy.

Bunshi Tachikawa, both a calligraphy master and skilled Rakugo narrator.

“For my stage performances,” Bunshi says, “it is important for me to concentrate on what I’m writing, and I develop the writings on stage. I explore the characters’ meanings further through Rakugo performances.”

Lastly, Bunshi’s final comments on Edomoji. “The Japanese kanji were imported from China, and, in addition, there were two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana, created. Meaning Japanese characters are evolving, living things. I would be happy to introduce this wonderful culture to a wider audience.”

Bunshi, thank you for telling us all about the fascinating Edomoji!

  • Andries

    I like japan typo. so much~~~it is amazing and powerful!

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    like the kakuji, never knew the name of this style prior to reading here.

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    Great post. Love it!

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    I love it!
    I’m trying to find a shodou school because even though I can write with a pen, my brush skills are poor…

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    very impressive! takes years to master and a lifetime to appreciate!

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  • http://arnaldojpbr@hotmail.com scoobdoo

    aprecio muito a caligrafia japonesa e treino muito kanji.muito boa a matéria sobre o bunshi.parabéns!

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