Japanese calligraphy is an artistic writing style of the Japanese language. Its Chinese origins can be traced back to the twenty-eighth century BCE. Calligraphy found its way into Japanese culture in 600 CE and is known as the karayo tradition.
For Westerners, calligraphy is forever fascinating. However, it takes years to learn how to properly draw the signs. Two basic principles must be known to understand Japanese writing: there are different writing styles and different alphabets.
Kaisho for example, is a writing style most commonly used in print media. Tensho on the other hand is used in signatures. Other writing styles are Reisho, Gyosho and Sousho.
The alphabets include Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Katakana is used for writing foreign words. It can also serve to highlight words, in analogy to capital letters as we know them from the Roman / Latin alphabet (Romaji in Japanese). Each Kanji character has a meaning of its own, while Hiragana or Katakana characters merely represent syllables. Alphabets are commonly mixed within the same text. For example Hiragana is used with Kanji to conjugate verbs or create adjectives.
So now that you know the basics, let’s look at some online resources to transform your name into beautiful Japanese calligraphy.
This page has an archive with over nine thousand names. They are conveniently provided in small tables.
From left to right the table shows the Western Name, Romaji, which shows how the name is pronounced in Japanese, the name written using the Katakana alphabet, the Kanji, which represents the literal translation or meaning of the name, and finally the meaning and how it is read in brackets.
The following page translates your name into Japanese using the Katakana alphabet. The dictionary contains around 3700 Western names. A few notes explain how names are commonly pronounced in Japanese.
You can select between several different font types, including traditional, calligraphy, quirky, sans-serif, antique, manga, and modern. The resulting images can be downloaded (right-click on it and select “Save Image As…”) and are free for personal use.
The last page provides a long list of words sorted into different categories. You can look for business- or society-related Kanjis and also names.
The Kanjis were created by a professional Japanese calligrapher. The images can be downloaded free of charge for personal use. Clicking on an image from the table will give you a short summary, including image size, resolution, and the name’s meaning.
Unfortunately, the list of names is rather short. But maybe you’re lucky and yours will be included.
If you would like to learn more about Japanese calligraphy, its historical and cultural background, and how it is used today, then please refer to this Introduction to the Japanese language.
Japanese calligraphy is unique and beautiful. In case you’re still lacking ideas for Christmas presents, why not create something special yet simple with the pages listed above. You could print a cup with the person’s name and a well wishing or a small poster.
Did you ever consider getting a Japanese or Chinese Kanji tattoo? And in case you already have one, what does it say?