I have section on my website where I take requests for custom calligraphies.
However, the majority of requests I get are people asking me to brush in Japanese Calligraphy a paragraph, or a sentence, they either wrote or grabbed from somewhere. And they send it to me in English.
I always have to write them back saying “you need to find someone who can translate this, then I can brush it.”
I’m not a native Japanese speaker.
I can speak and write fluently Spanish and English. Even between these two languages, I have trouble translating long texts. I often ask when I’m translating “what do you want to say?”
See, translation is not about looking words in a dictionary or even worse using Google translate. You have to translate context and slang. For this, you need to know more than vocabulary.
Context is everything.
Shodo is the art of brushing Japanese kanji characters in an artistic way. You don’t have to speak Japanese in order to practice Shodo.
While the ability to have a conversation in Japanese, or be able to translate texts into Japanese, is not important to practice Shodo, you do need to learn a few elements of the language.
Kanji characters have meaning.
As you learn how to brush them, you learn their meaning and pronunciation. When you know the meaning of the kanji, you can brush the kanji in a way that reflects its meaning.
In order to expand your knowledge of kanji, and learn how to brush calligraphy with multiple words, you need to know the following:
1 – Basic pronunciation. Learn how the Japanese language is pronounced. Vowels in Japanese are pronounced differently that in English (but similar to Spanish). There are no ‘“L” sounds in Japanese and the “Rs” are soft.
2 – The kana syllabaries. The Japanese language uses three writing system: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. The first two, known as kana, are phonetic symbols. Kana is also great for calligraphy, specially hiragana.
3 – How to use a kanji dictionary. The only way you will learn more kanji is to find them in a dictionary. In order to use a dictionary you need to know kana, since Kanji pronunciations are written in kana. Kanji are organized by either radicals (a section of the kanji that is common among many kanji) or stroke counts.
And that’s pretty much it.
You don’t need to know grammar. Your vocabulary will improve naturally as you learn more kanji and their meaning. Naturally your interest in the Japanese language may grow and you may find yourself learning a few phrases here and there.