Category: Writing

This Artist Preserves Ancient “Woman Hand” Writing Style

Secret message writing has always been a rich segment of the written word’s history.

One Chinese folktale explains how Ming revolutionaries overthrew Mongolian rulers by smuggling messages inside of mooncakes. For nearly one-thousand-years, Japanese women were discouraged from studying the standard writing system known as Kanji, and instead developed a secret script called Kana to write literature, arrange meetings, and express themselves freely within the restrictive lifestyles of royal courts.



According to The Guardian, language standardizations at the beginning of the 20th century saw ninety-percent of Kana’s five-hundred-fifty characters die out. However, these lost characters are being preserved by master calligrapher and artist Kaoru Akagawa, who became fascinated with them after learning to decipher letters from her grandmother.



“Reading my grandmother’s letters was always difficult for me as a teenage girl,” Akagawa recalls. “Her handwriting looked like scribbling, and I used to ask her to write properly.”

It wasn’t until training to become a calligrapher, and analyzing documents along historic trade routes favored by women travelers and ancestors, that Akagawa realized her grandmother had been writing to her with the lost script.

“I felt as if I were reading a history of my DNA,” she continued.


Image via Amazon


Akagawa’s grandmother belongs to one of the last remaining generations to use Kana in daily life. The same script was used by Murasaki Shikibu to write The Tale of Genji, which is widely known as the world’s first novel.


Image via Autumn Salon


Today, Akagawa incorporates Kana into a style of calligraphy called Kana Shodo, and into an art form called Kana Art, where thousands of minutely painted Kana characters form larger images and paper sculptures. Kana Shodo also incorporates a kind of script used in the 10th century known as Onnade, which translates to “Woman Hand,” and served as “the backbone of a female-dominated literary culture.”


Featured Image via The Guardian