Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 4) - Uchiyama Kenichi


Welcome to Part 4 of Calligraphers of Instagram, and this week we're keeping things super simple with Uchiyama Kenichi.

The Japanese way of giving names is to put the family name (Uchiyama) first, and then the given name (Kenichi).

That's the Japanese way, so I'll keep it that way too.

Also, I have a friend with exactly the same name, so I'll call my friend Kenichi Uchiyama and the calligrapher Uchiyama Kenichi. It keeps things simple.

Uchiyama is a designer from Yokohama, Japan.

He posts clean, minimalist Japanese handwriting on a separate handwriting Instagram account.

I'm not even sure if you can call it calligraphy, it's so gloriously simple. But he's got nice handwriting, and I love having it in my feed.

↓ こんにちは konnichiwa ("hello!")



Challenge time!

Can you read these next three?









Did you get it? These are the three Japanese "alphabets": ひらがな hiragana, カタカナ katakana, and 漢字 kanji. Each is written in its own alphabet, of course.

What I love most though is Uchiyama's series of Japanese placenames:

↓ 北海道 Hokkaido



↓ 名古屋市 Nagoya-shi (Nagoya city)



I love the balance and simplicity in his writing. It's not big or ostentatious. It has a quiet confidence, I think.

Follow Uchiyama Kenichi (or Kenichi Uchiyama!) on his writing-only Instagram account at @u.handwriting

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 3) - Isawo Murayama


Hello and welcome to the third instalment of "Calligraphers of Instagram", where I introduce amazing artists making Japanese calligraphy - and sharing it online.

Isawo Murayama is a busy mum-of-four who makes time to create new pieces daily.

Her work feels a bit like a diary - together with her descriptive Instagram captions, her calligraphy offers up a little slice of her day-to-day life.

Traditional Japanese calligraphy uses a brush which is dipped into ink, but Murayama uses a 筆ペン (fude-pen) or "brush pen" to write.

A brush pen is like a fountain pen with a soft nib. It handles like a pen, but writes like a brush.

I love her stories and the little explanations behind her words, as well as the bold, small lettering.

In this first one she talks about the importance of two words: ごめん "sorry" and ありがとう "thank you".
ごめんと言える勇気とありがとうと言える素直さと。
Gomen to ieru yuuki to arigatou to ieru sunao-sa to.
The courage to say sorry, and the grace to say thank you.


Some of her posts are like little motivational speeches:
自分を信じることから始めよう。
Jibun o shinjiru koto kara hajimeyou.
"Start by believing in yourself."
I really like the juxtaposition of big thoughts on small paper here.



As well as telling stories about her kids in her captions, Murayama also writes powerfully about the advice she would like to give her younger self:
あなたを思ってくれる人はたくさんいる / 気づいて... /心...ひらいて
Anata o omotte kureru hito wa takusan iru / kizuite / kokoro hiraite
"There are lots of people who care about you / Realise this... / Open your heart"

Isn't that lovely?

You can find Isawo Murayama (@isaisa5963) on Instagram here, or read more on her (Japanese-language) blog.

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 2) - Mitsuru Nagata


Mitsuru Nagata was born in Kyoto, and works extensively in Spain. His work combines elements of calligraphy with sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) techniques.

He performs at "live-painting" events, where he produces huge calligraphy paintings in front of a live audience.

These large-scale performances are often at festivals:


I love the simplicity of Nagata's work, like this stunning commission, with the traditional thatched roof home in the background:
おかえりなさい (o kaeri nasai) "Welcome home"
(Calligraphy is a good opportunity to get your eyes used to vertical writing, too!)

A post shared by Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on

If hiragana's not your thing, there's plenty of complex kanji to get your teeth into too.

Like this new year's post, with a pug for the year of the dog (2018):
謹賀新年 (kinga shinnen) "Happy New Year"


I love the movement in these videos, and the combination of precision brushwork and watery ink.

This one's a promo for one of Nagata's live performances in Spain - a beckoning cat saying おいでね! (oide ne!) "Please come!"


Follow Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on Instagram, or find out more on his website.


Read more in this series: Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 1) - @yogai888emi

Calligraphers of Instagram (bonus pun!) - @yogai888emi again


I can't believe I wrote an entire blog post about calligrapher @yogai888emi and forgot to include this amazing pun.

タイ料理が食べタイ

tai ryouri ga tabe-tai

"I want to eat Thai food."

What's the Japanese word for "Thai?" it's タイ tai.

And how do you say "want to eat" in Japanese? You stick -tai on the end of the verb.

It's funny, right?

Cute, too ♡

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 1) - @yogai888emi


I absolutely love kanji - Chinese characters that are also used in Japanese writing.

But calligraphy is not my strong point. My writing is good, but not particularly beautiful.

I have, however, recently become slightly obsessed with instagrammers who post Japanese calligraphy photos.

So I thought it might be fun to share some with you!

I first discovered @yogai888emi via this adorable story about falling asleep on the train.

↓ Look at those lovely clean lines. I immediately had serious handwriting envy.

A post shared by 恵美・曄涯 (@yogai888emi) on

Can you read this one?
↓ 掃除 (souji) "cleaning"


If kanji's not your thing, you can find beautiful hiragana and katakana on her page too.

↓ ハナゲ (hanage) "nose hair"



There are videos, too, if you like watching calligraphy. I do - I find it strangely relaxing.

↓ 煮える (nieru) to boil, to be cooked. This one's from the height of summer!



You can find heaps more of her work at @yogai888emi's instagram page. I hope you enjoy exploring it as much as I do.

Just looking at calligraphy won't make your handwriting more beautiful though - unfortunately!

Why You Should Use Mnemonics - the Quickest and Best Way to Learn Hiragana and Katakana


This week I finally got around to going through the mid-course feedback from my students and drawing up plans to incorporate some of what you asked for into the rest of the course.

Several learners mentioned the importance of learning the kana early on.

Learning to read Japanese can be a daunting task. The Japanese language has three distinct "alphabets" (four if you count romaji!) and learning kanji is a task that takes years.

You can learn the kana (hiragana and katakana) pretty quickly, though, if you use the most efficient way to memorise them - mnemonics.

It's a bit like brute force memorisation, except it's fun...

Hiragana and Katakana are the "building blocks" of the Japanese written language. Students in my beginner class mostly start with the romaji edition of 'Japanese For Busy People', because my priority is to get you speaking from day one, and to spend class time on speaking as much as possible. Reading and writing is mostly set as homework.

But if you want to learn to read Japanese, you definitely need to start by learning hiragana.

But how to remember them?

The best, quickest, most fun method is to associate each character with a picture that it (clearly or vaguely) looks like, ideally also using the sound of the letter.

Hiragana and katakana are pretty simple, so associating each character with a picture is super easy.

Here's hiragana き (ki), which we can imagine is a picture of a KEY. My key is an old-fashioned one. Yours might be modern and spiky. Or it might have wings on it and be flying about getting chased by Harry Potter on a broomstick.

The point is to think of a strong visual image that makes the picture of the key stick in your mind:


Of course, you need to learn to read words and sentences too. So as well as learning each letter, you need to practice writing and reading. This where the mnemonic really sinks in.

Memorisation doesn't help you remember. What helps you remember is active recall.

Let me give you an example.

You're reading a sentence and come across the word きのこ. You're staring at the letter き - "which one was that again?" and struggle a little bit to remember it.

Then you remember - aha! it's the KEY! This is ki.

This process of active recall - pushing a little bit to remember something - is the process that cements the mnemonic in your mind.

Hurrah! You're on the path to reading Japanese.

Fun fact: Toad is a きのこ (kinoko).

For me, one of the great thing about using mnemonics to remember the kana is that when I explain the system to learners, they often tell me that's what they're doing anyway, even if they don't have a name for what they're doing:
"Oh yes, that's how I remember む too - it's a funny cow's face! MOO"

"No, む is a man saying MO-ve!"
I've also found - luckily for me - it doesn't matter seem to matter if the actual picture is rubbish. (You don't even have to draw them, I just did this to help my students out and to share the idea).


What's important is that the picture in your head is super clear.

...and once you finish hiragana, you can do the whole thing again for katakana!

You can find the whole set of hiragana and katakana mnemonics with the hashtag #stepupkana - please check it out and let me know what you think.

I'd love to hear what mnemonics you use to help remember the kana - let me know in the comments or add your story to the instagram posts for that character.

Have a lovely Friday everyone. 素敵な一日を過ごしてください!