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In China, Korea and Japan, calligraphy, or brush writing, has traditionally been considered as one of the fine arts, equal in status to painting and poetry. In Japan it is still highly regarded today and is taught in all Elementary and Junior High Schools, while New Year calligraphy contests on a grand scale are popular events on TV.
From about the sixth century AD, the Japanese started to adopt the various styles of Chinese calligraphy, which had originated in the Qin dynasty ( 221-207 BC). Tensho ('seal script') is used for official stamps, or seals; reisho ('clerical script') is used for official documents; kaisho ('square script') is a bold, clear, easily readable script which is used today for moveable typesetting; gyōsho ('running style') is a more informal abbreviated style; sōsho ('grass writing') is a truly artistic style which allows the calligrapher to abbreviate and vary the characters to suit text and context. The Japanese further developed gyōsho and sōsho and also created other styles based on the native kana script. This was perfected in the Heian period (794-1185) and practised as a pastime by court women. Calligraphy, painting and poetry were often combined, for example when portraits of the 'Thirty-six Poets' were inscribed with poems. Ancient examples of calligraphy, including copies of Buddhist sutras, are especially prized in Japan.
Writing equipment, usually collected into a suzuri-bako ('writing box') consists of two types of brushes, a block of solid sumi ink made of charcoal or soot mixed with glue, a suzuri ink stone, on which the calligrapher slowly grinds ink as a preliminary to writing, and a decorative suiteki ('water dropper'). A round or bar-shaped paperweight is often used.