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Oriental calligraphy

The calligraphy brush, ink, paper, and ink-stone are all essential implements in East Asian calligraphy writing: they are known as the Four Treasures of the Study in China. Calligraphers use these Four Treasures with the support of desk pads, brush-stands and paperweights to produce their beautiful and serene art form.

Paper

Varied and special types of paper are used in East Asian calligraphy and are chosen depending on the brush and ink used.

In China, Xuanzhi, from the Anhui province, is the preferred type of paper. It is made from the Tartar wingceltis, as well as other materials including rice, the paper mulberry, bamboo, hemp, etc. In Japan, washi is made from the kozo (paper mulberry), ganpi, mitsumata, bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat.

Shuan/ Xuan Paper, commonly called Rice Paper in English-speaking countries, is suitable for high ink absorbency and brush motion at various speeds. Its high quality feature makes it the perfect choice for quality Chinese calligraphy and painting.

Mien Paper "Cotton Paper” very popular for practicing Chinese painting and calligraphy. It’s cheaper than Xuan Paper and its quality is somewhat inferior.

Mao Bien Paper (Bamboo Paper) is cheaper than Mien Paper. Most beginners start practicing calligraphy with Mao Bien Paper with printed grids for positioning of the strokes. Mao Bien Paper is a low cost substitute for most people to practice on. Most Mao Bien Paper is categorized into two types: the Nine-Palace Grids and the Rice-Character Grids. Each type helps the beginners to position the strokes more correctly and accurately on the writing paper.

Ink

The ink is made from lampblack (soot) and binders. The ink-sticks must be rubbed with water on an ink-stone until the right consistency is achieved. Much cheaper, pre-mixed bottled inks are now available, but these are used primarily for practice as stick inks are considered higher quality and chemical inks are more prone to bleeding over time, making them less suitable for use in hanging scrolls. The learning of rubbing the ink is an essential part of the calligraphy study.

The quality of an ink stick depends mainly on the type of wood that is used for the soot. A good quality ink stick is made out of fine soot and a small proportion of natural glue. It should be compact with no air between the soot and the glue. The texture should be homogeneous and the surface should feel smooth.

A fine-grained ink stick will be easy to grind and will adhered naturally to the ink stone. It should produce a homogeneous luminous ink.

How to make ink?

Place the ink stone in front of you and pour some water in the well section. Keep the ink stick upright and hold it with the thumb on one side and the index and middle finger on the other side.
Press the ink stick on the ink stone very lightly and start turning the stick in circular movements. After a while the ink becomes blacker in colour and thicker in consistency. You may add some water during the grinding if necessary.To test if the ink is ready take a drop of ink with the ink stick and place it onto a rim of a white saucer. If the ink does not run down the saucer it will be ready.

If the ink is too thick, the writing will not be fluent, because the ink does not flow smoothly from the brush. On the other hand if the ink is too thin, the ink will flow down too fast.

How to take care of the ink stick;

Do not let the ink stick sit too long in the water as it may cause it to crumble. After making the ink, dry the stick with absorbent paper or cloth.

Ink-stone

A stone or ceramic ink-stone is used to rub the solid ink-stick into liquid ink and to contain the ink once it is liquid. Chinese ink-stones are highly prized as art objects.

A high quality ink stone produces fine thick ink quickly. If the ink stone is too soft, the ink stick will not adhere to the ink stone and it will take very long to grind the ink. However, if the ink stone is too hard it will produce a coarse grained ink that is not homogeneous. A hard ink-stone may also damage the hairs of the brush. A highly porous ink stone will also quickly dry out the ink.

As a rule grind the ink you need for the calligraphy session you planned for that same day. The ink should not be left to dry inside the ink stone as this can cause damage to the surface of the ink-stone.

More care should be taken if you place bottled ink into ink-stones as it contains a higher glue level which can become embedded to the surface of the ink-stone if left to dry out making the surface unsuitable for grinding ink-sticks.

A lid on the ink stone is very useful to prevent the ink from drying out.

How to take care of the ink-stone;

You should always clean the ink stone after use, washing it thoroughly with fresh water. A soft sponge can be used, but never use a metallic or a hard cloth because you will damage the stone.

For the grinding of mineral colors; ceramic ink stones, plates, or the cheaper natural stone ink-stones can be used as mineral residues may damage the surface of the more valuable stones.

Oriental seal (chop)

The calligraphy work is usually completed by the artist putting his or her red ink signature or seal at the bottom of the art work.
Seals can be made out of stone, wood, bamboo or plastic and are usually carved by specialist seal carvers, or by the users themselves placing the users name onto the stone using one of the standard style scripts.

There are two types of seal paste:

Silk: The paste is made from finely pulverized cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands. The silk strands bind the mixture together to form a thick substance. It has an oily appearance and tends to be a bright red in colour.

Plant: The paste is made from finely pulverized cinnabar mixed with castor oil and moxa punk. The texture is very loose. The appearance is sponge like, not oily and tends to be a darker shade of red.

Plant-based paste tends to dry more quickly than silk-based pastes because the plant extract does not hold onto the oil as tightly as silk does. Depending on the paper used, plant pastes can dry in 10 to 15 minutes. The more absorbent the paper, the faster it dries as the paper absorbs most of the oil. Plant pastes tend to smudge more easily than silk pastes due to the loose binding agent.

How to look after red paste;

The paste should always be kept covered in its original container after it has been used. Keep the paste away from direct sunlight and intense heat to prevent it from drying out.

How to look after seals;

After use, as much paste as possible should be wiped from the printing surface with an absorbent cloth. The seal should then be return to their protective case.

Ink brush

The brush is the traditional writing implement in East Asian calligraphy. The body of the brush can be made from either bamboo, or rarer materials like red sandalwood, glass, ivory, silver, and gold. The head of the brush can be made from the hair (or feather) of a wide variety of animals, including the wolf, rabbit, deer, chicken, duck, goat, pig, tiger, etc.

Today, calligraphy may also be done using a pen, but pen calligraphy does not enjoy the same prestige as traditional brush calligraphy.

Types of brushes:

The goat's hair brushes are white-haired brushes made from the hair of sheep or goats. They are very absorbent and supple, and produce rounded forms. This brush is good for standard script.

The wolf's hair brushes are brown-haired brushes made from the hair of wolves, horses, weasel or rabbits. This calligraphy brush is stiff and resilient. It is suitable for the direct attack technique of Japanese calligraphy that requires strokes with sharp beginnings and endings.

The mixed hairs calligraphy brush made from different types of animal hair, and combine brown and white hairs. The stiff brown hairs from the inner core of the brush are used for their resilient quality, while the outer white hairs ensure the suppleness of the brush tip.

How to take care of the calligraphy brush;

A new brush is stiff because its hairs are covered with a layer of diluted glue to protect them from possible damage. Before you begin to use a new calligraphy brush you have to wash the glue away.

Place your hand under flowing tap water and form a well with your palm. Place the brush in this well and rotate it in the water that collects in your hand gently. Do not put the brush directly under the tap water as you could damage the hairs. Soon you will notice that the hairs start to loosen.

Do not leave the calligraphy brush standing in water, as the weight of the brush can break or damage the hairs as the tip of the brush.

After each session you should rinse your brush under tap water in the same way as when you open a new brush.

Pay particular attention to the ink which can remain in the central part of the calligraphy brush, press it out with soft movements from the centre of the brush towards the tip until there is no ink left in it. Then squeeze the brush gently and bring it to a pointed shape. Hang it with the tip down on a stand and let it dry well.

Paperweight

Paperweights are used to weigh down paper and come in several forms: some are oblong wooden blocks carved with calligraphic or pictorial designs; others are essentially small sculptures of people or animals. Like ink-stones, paperweights are collectible works of art in their own right.

Desk pad

The desk pad is a pad made of felt. Some are printed with grids on both sides, so that when it is placed under the translucent paper, it can be used as a guide to ensure correct placement and size of characters. These printed pads are used only by students. Both desk pads and the printed grids come in a variety of sizes.


Aromatherapy necklaces

Aromatherapy is applied and used in many different ways. There are also Aromatherapy necklaces that can be worn in order to improve your health. These necklaces carry essential fragrances that can last an entire journey. A tiny bottle is attached to a string of any sort of material, and this is worn as a necklace. These necklaces usually have glass beads, and Gifts Of The Orient offers you a large variety of such necklaces with hand crafted porcelain and ceramics. Aromatherapy necklaces are available in a variety of colours, designs and styles that match all kinds of occasions. They also have mini oil Amphora & Jade bead thread.


Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine or form of treatment that uses liquid plant materials. The plant materials used are basically distilled oil extracts of certain aromatic plants and flowers. In many cultures and religions, Aromatherapy has been an ancient way of treating many physical ailments and disturbances. The aromatic oils are different from other herbal oils that might not be as aromatic or fragrant. Plant materials that are used in this therapy are believed to affect the mood or health of a person. 


Essential oils

Essential oils are often any concentrated, hydrophobic liquids that contain volatile aroma compounds from aromatic herbs, plants or flowers. These oils have soothing effects and they are best used for physical and emotional ailments or moodiness. Essential oils are also simply known as oils that are extracted from plant materials. Examples of these are oil of clove or oil of lavender. They are used in perfumes, cosmetics and bath products, and they flavour food and drink too. They are also used in scenting incense and household cleaning products.


The legend of the Maneki Neko Lucky Cat

 
Maneki Neko is Japanese for “Beckoning Cat” with a raised paw to gesture; “Please come in you are welcome”. The cat is usually depicted as a Japanese bobcat.

 
As with most legends there are many versions that have evolved over time and I like this version especially;

 
In 17th century
Tokyo, there was priest who looked after a poverty stricken temple. The priest though poor and hungry was still kind and looked after his pet cat, Tama. The priest shared what little food he had with Tama.

However the priest’s situation was becoming worse as the temple was becoming more dilapidated and there was a terrible storm approaching. Tama the cat sat on the temple’s porch while the storm broke. Near by stood a wealthy important noble man, who was trying to shelter from the lashing rain. The noble noticed the cat and was startled to see the cat waving to him. He went to investigate the beckoning cat. As he approached the temple a bolt of lighting descended from the black clouds and hit the tree he had been sheltering under.

The noble man’s life had been saved and so the noble man became friends with the priest and his cat Tama. The temple became prosperous and the priest and his cat never went hungry again.

After living a long and happy life the priest buried Tama in the temple’s cat cemetery and to show his love and respect the Maneki Neko was made in Tama’s honour.

From that time on it is customary to have a Maneki Neko in your place of business or home to bring visitors and good luck.

Colour schemes for your Maneki Neko Lucky Cats;

Calico Cat/tri colour - traditionally the luckiest cat of all.
White Cat - promotes good health in the home

Black Cat - wards off evil from the premises

Golden Cat - encourages intense wealth and prosperity.

Yellow cat - promotes prosperity

Red Cat - brings prosperity for business
Pink Cat – for love, relationships and romance.

Purple cat - a modern colour and is linked closely with pink for love and romance

Green Cat – for health & success in education

Symbols that go with your Maneki Neko Lucky Cats;


Crystal balls - this can represent wealth and wisdom as crystal balls are used by psychics to see into the future. These are found on the more modern cats and have been added for their decorative value as crystals are becoming more popular in Feng Shui.

Daikon - a giant white radish used in Japanese culinary dishes. The radish, a big perfect vegetable represents bounty and good fortune. This symbol is still quite an unusual decorative item for Maneki Neko cats.

Daruma - the Japanese name for Bodhidharma who brought Zen Buddhism to china from India. Daruma is considered to be lucky.

Koban - is a gold coin used in the Edo period in Japan. The Koban was worth one ryo or approximately 1000 Japanese dollars in the early Japanese monetary system. Now, modern Maneki Neko cats, to keep up with inflation today, hold Kobans representing 10 million Ryo.

Ema - are prayer tablets. These are written by people as messages of gratitude or to convey their inner wishes. The tablets are then placed on shrines.

Carp fish - representing abundance of wealth and good fortune. The carp is associated with strength, courage and determination. The symbol could be added to by gold coins falling from the fishes mouth to add to the abundance.

Hyotan - a hollow dried gourd. This is a symbol of good luck and protection. Traditionally the Japanese used the gourd for storing sake and other beverages.

Gold ingots - these are of Chinese origin and as they are boat shaped and represented an easy journey to wealth and prosperity.

Uchide Nokozuchi - a magic money mallet which brings good luck to anyone who shakes it. This is normally seen in the hands of the money god Daikou Mantra, the god of wealth and farmers.

It is considered that a cat with the right paw raised brings prosperity, while a cat with the left paw raised invites people and happiness into your business and life. 

Moreover; the higher and bigger the paw the better.

 


 Cast iron tea pots

 If you are lucky enough to be the proud owner of a range style cooker then it could soon be home to one of many cast iron tea pots that come as part of a splendid selection.  The cast iron tea pots look cultured within culinary areas and they’ll make welcome additions to many range cookers.  Many of the cast iron tea pots come in the Japanese Tetsubin styles and are delightful to look at and are capable of adding charm to your kitchen. 

Originally, cast iron tea pots were used predominantly in China but in the 17th century the Japanese started to use them.  They transformed what was once just a functional item and gave it an exquisite exterior which can enliven its surroundings. 

You might be reluctant to use one of the cast iron tea pots for fear of causing it damage but they are extremely hard wearing and are capable of boiling water on a daily basis. Boil water in one of the cast iron tea pots and when you drink a cup of tea you’ll appreciate the taste even more than you usually do. 

The ranges of cast iron tea pots make striking features when placed on range cookers and they are certainly more pleasing to look at then mass produced kettles. 

There is something special about tea that has been made in the cast iron tea pots as it certainly is more refreshing than your usual brew.  Use one of the cast iron tea pots to make your morning cuppa and you can sit and reflect whilst being refreshed by the perfect cup of tea.


Your cast iron teapot & kettle

Cast iron teapots were originally created in ancient china. They were then adopted and developed by the Japanese in the 17th century into practical as well as decorative handicraft items sold under the name of Tetsubin. The cast iron teapots & kettles symbolise the everlasting strength and unity of the world and the more intricate are often given as gifts and kept as status symbols.

Kettles;

The more traditional handmade Japanese cast iron kettles are normally bigger than the teapots and are not enamelled on the inside. These units are made based on the old tradition of boiling water separately in a Tetsubin and pouring the water onto tealeaves in a separate teapot. These units therefore made from cast iron and do not come with a strainer as this is a later adaptation to western customs.

Teapots;

Through special treatments, impurities are removed from the cast iron during the production process. A coating of misty black enamel is then applied to help prevent the formation of rust. Due to their strength of construction these teapots may be used as kettles (to boil water) or as tea pots (to brew tea). Most sizes come with a stainless steel mesh infuser for brewing loose tea. If using the pot to boil water this infuser should be removed before doing so.

Instructions for use:

  • Before using, boil a pot of water and pour it out to prepare the pot for use. 
  • Then, boil water with a cup of green tea to allow the tannins to clean and protect the inside of the pot.
  • You may also want to wipe the outside with a damp cloth soaked in green tea.
  • After each use, make sure that the pot is clean and dry to prevent the formation of rust.
  • If water is left in the pot, chemicals from the minerals in the water may eventually erode the enamel coating.
  • Tea should not be left in the pot overnight.
  • In the unlikely event of rust, the pot can still be used. After cleaning the area with a soft brush, boil used teabags or tealeaves in the pot for 15 minutes. The tannic acid from the tea will react naturally with the iron producing a coating over the area.
  • Store your pot in a cool, dry place or put it on display.

 

These cast iron teapots and kettles have a flat base suitable for Range style Cookers.

Enjoy a tranquil moment…

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Japanese sake sets

The culture and wisdom of the orient has begun to influence the Western World and we now benefit by having many Japanese and Chinese inspired products within our society. One such oriental product that western folk enjoy is sake or rice wine that’s been produced in Japan

At one time sake was the primary alcoholic drink in Japan but the introduction of other types of wines, spirits and beers gradually saw to a decline in the consumption of sake in that country.  However, sake has become more popular in western society over recent years and more and more homes now enjoy a cup or two of the beverage. 

To best enjoy sake it’s worth investing in Japanese sake sets so you can fully appreciate the experience of drinking the wine. 

Typically, Japanese sake sets consist of a sake jug that’s accompanied by a number of cups.  You can buy Japanese sake sets that come with just two cups which are ideal for intimate evenings, or other types of sets that come with four cups for when you are entertaining friends.  The delightful designs on the Japanese sake sets are beautiful to behold and when they aren’t being used they’ll make fine features in your home. 

Why not invest in a little piece of the orient and purchase Japanese sake sets to enjoy wonderful wine from? 


Japanese and Chinese white and green teas 

We are well renowned for being a nation that likes a nice drop of tea but that doesn’t mean to say we sample all types of tea on a daily basis.  We might like our tea but the majority of us opt for tea that comes in bags direct from the supermarket shelves.  This is a shame because there’s a World of teas out there just waiting to treat our taste buds to a drinking sensation of the highest order.  Take Japanese and Chinese white and greens teas for instance. 

The refreshing varieties of Japanese and Chinese white and green teas not only make a nice cuppa, they are good for our bodies too.  In fact, it has been claimed that by drinking Japanese and Chinese white and green teas our digestive system can be much healthier. 

Years ago it was quite difficult to obtain varieties of Japanese and Chinese white and green teas but in our modern society and with the advent of the World wide-web it now is a simple process.  Moreover, there are suppliers to be found on the internet who have plenty of the Japanese and Chinese white and green teas in stock so customers can always have plenty of these products in their kitchens. 

The varieties of the Japanese and Chinese white and green teas vary in composition while they all benefit by having antioxidant agencies.  For anyone who likes a refreshing cup of tea but would like to switch to more healthy varieties, ranges of Japanese and Chinese white and green teas can make splendid alternatives.





 

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