Gold Leaf Gilding and Japanese Calligraphy Workshops

Japan is a country rich in arts and crafts.  Among the famous Japanese arts are:

Bonsai – the art of cultivating miniature trees

Ikebana – the art of flower arrangement

Origami – the art of paper folding

Haiku – the art of Japanese poetry

Gilding – the art of decorating objects with gold in leaf or powder form; and

Calligraphy – the art of writing Japanese characters beautifully

I was first introduced to one of Japanese art forms when I was in preschool.  Of course, we had the never-ending paper folding!  Me and my classmates made paper airplanes, paper balls, paper flowers, etc.  We were fond of making them that when we turned elementary, our teacher required us to have it as a project for the whole year.  And that time, she taught us advanced Origami.  Then it became very hard for us that we had to purchase Origami manuals.  Each object from the manual was so challenging to make  that once we did, we considered it as our trophy!

When high school came, we studied Japanese literature.  Our Japan-inclination leveled up that our teacher made us write 100 Haikus!  Those were more than enough compositions!  But we did the project diligently and take note, we didn’t have Mr. Google during those years so we didn’t have any means to cheat.  We did our compositions all by ourselves and I enjoyed it for I always love writing.  Some of my classmates even asked for some Haikus from me.

Then years in engineering and sciences deprived me of my artistic penchant until last summer when I attended the 2011 JCI Asia-Pacific Conference in Manila.  Our brothers from JCI Japan offered to give us free Gold Leaf Gilding and Japanese Calligraphy Workshops.

Since the 16th century, the tradition of creating art using gold leaf has been preserved and continued in Japan.  Gold leaf has been used to enhance the beauty of many traditional Japanese arts and has been used in castles, shrines, temples, and on Buddhist altars.  It is also used in lacquerware, porcelain and folding screens.

gold leaf gilding

While gilding gold on a mini plate

The thickness of the gold leaf is 0.1 micrometer.  When taking out the gold leaf, be careful.  Pick it up with a toothpick and slowly put it into your object.  Then a certain chemical is used to let the gold adhere into it permanently.

japanese gold leaf gilding

Successfully gilded a gold rabbit.  Thanks to my sensei (teacher)!

99% of Japan’s gold leaf comes from Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture.  The name for Kanazawa in Japanese is formed by two Chinese characters Kane meaning “gold” and sawa meaning “marsh”.  According to a legend, this name is derived from a marsh from which gold appeared.

You can try out gold leafing by visiting Kanazawa which is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated city of crafts and folk art!    Just for stopping by at Kanazawa, you’ll get a piece of Kanazawa gold leaf and a yummy gold leaf candy for that taste of luxurious gold!

kanazawa japan

Arigatou gozaimasu, JCI Kanazawa!:)

On the other hand, Japanese Calligraphy is an artistic writing of the Japanese language.  It is called shodou, or “the way of writing”. Though it shares its roots with the Chinese calligraphy, it has its own styles intrinsic to Japan.

japanese calligraphy

There are three basic writing styles namely:

Kaisho – literally means “correct writing”.  Each stroke is made in a deliberate and clear way.  Below you can see the character for “dream” in kaisho style:


Image from Web

Gyousho – literally means “traveling writing”.  This is the semi-cursive style.  It is more flowing and artistic.  The same character is written in gyousho below:


Image from Web

Sousho – literally means “grass writing”.  This is the flowing cursive style.  It supersedes readability as the artist rarely allows his/her brush to leave the paper, resulting in graceful, swooping shapes.  It is a more stylized work of art than a vehicle for conveying information.  The same character is written in sousho below:


Image from Web

My calligraphy sensei told me that I write good in Japanese calligraphy that he included my name on my mulberry paper for the Japanese character of love.  Maybe he must see my English penmanship too.  Hehe…

japanese calligraphy1

Trying out to spell L-O-V-E

japanese calligraphy2

My sensei writing my name in Japanese characters

Arigatou gozaimasu for sharing your arts with us, JCI Japan!:)With my experiences, I can say that Japanese arts are indeed traditional and unique.  Japanese had perfected a myriad collection of art forms that reflect Japan’s rich culture.  So I encourage you to try one of their arts and get that trance of artistic “Japanesa” in you!

For more information about Kanazawa, visit,_Ishikawa.

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