032 – Mindfulness calligraphy with Rie Takeda

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast , join Nick and his guest Rie Takeda as they explore the beauty of shodo (the art of traditional Japanese calligraphy).

What you're feeling reflects on the paper

"The brush captures our present moment and makes it visible with ink on paper, that's a fact. So you can check your own state of mind, if there is a tension or tendencies of your own body and mind, just like a mirror." - Rie Takeda

Podcast Highlights

  • Shodo.  At 2:03, Rie explains what shodo is.
  • Sumi-e. At 5:20, Rie explains another Japanese art, sumi-e.
  • Rie’s background. At 7:52, Rie talks about her life in Hokkaido.
  • Gayu calligraphy. Rei talks about Gayu calligraphy, a shodo calligraphy school, at 9:20.
  • Learning shodo. At 10:08, Rei shares her experience learning shodo from her grandmother.
  • Doing illustrations and cover design. At 12:58, Rie talks about her experience in doing the illustrations and cover design for Ikigai: Giving Every Day Meaning and Joy by Yukari Mistsuhashi.
  • Mindfulness calligraphy. At 17:24, Nick and Rie talk about mindfulness calligraphy and its benefits to people who practice it.
  • Mushin. The two talk about another Japanese term, mushin, and how people can achieve and experience it, at 23:59.
  • Visible energy flow. At 29:44, Rie explains how shodo can make people’s energy flow visible and instantly solid.
  • The process of drawing a kanji character. At 31:42, Rie shares how she visualizes what she wants to draw.
  • Shokunin damashii. At 39:08, Nick and Rie discuss the relevance of calligraphy to shokunin damashii (craftsman spirit).
  • “The ink never lies”. At 40:51, Rie explains what she means by this intriguing phrase. 
  • The use of calligraphy to help therapists. At 42:49, Rie shares how she uses mindfulness calligraphy to help therapists.
  • Working on one’s self. Rie explains how calligraphy is also about working on one’s self, at 45:35.
  • Rie’s ikigai and oshiegai. At 53:03, Rei shares that calligraphy is what she considers oshiegai and her ikigai.
  • Wabi-sabi. At 54:38, Rie defines wabi-sabi, and shares how it inspires her as an artist.
  • Wa. At 1:06:24, Rie shares another aspect of Japanese culture that she finds great value in, the term wa (peace or harmony).

Rie Takeda

Rie Takeda Ikigai Tribe

Rie Takeda is a freelance artist and a professional calligrapher; she has been practicing shodo since the age of five, under the creative supervision of her grandmother, a distinguished Gayu calligraphy artist. She teaches shodo in various countries, including the UK, Switzerland, and Germany. She produces Neo-Japonism paintings, calligraphy works, washi paper and vintage Kimono collages, illustrations, and works in body art; and also performs collaborations and exhibitions both in Europe and Japan.


Shodo For Beginners

Theme Workshops



Rie started learning shodo at the age of five. Shodo is one of the oldest and most profound art forms in Japan, and Rie explains that shodo is often translated as ‘the way of artistic handwriting’, or ‘beautiful writing’; she refers to it as the art of traditional Japanese calligraphy. Shodo is written in two kanji characters: sho (to write) and do, also known as mitchi (the way). The depth of beauty in shodo is the result of diverse techniques and complex brush movements -- it is accompanied by a flow of the brush and sumi ink; Rie thinks of it not only as an art form but a spiritual connection as well. 


Rie also performs sumi-e (ink painting or ink flow), which is also written in two kanji characters: sumi (sumi ink) and e (painting or picture). She shares that she gets naturally created ink from fine woods -- normally high-quality inks, because these offer detailed brush movements. Sumi-e comes in black, grayish black, and reddish black -- there’s a subtle color difference in tone.

Learning shodo

Rie learned shodo from her grandmother, a distinguished Gayu calligrapher. Gayu is one of the many shodo calligraphy schools in Japan. Her grandmother had a unique way of teaching her the techniques by using pictograms of Kanji characters, rather than kanji strokes and techniques. Rie learned the process of how the kanji tree was created by using a picture of a tree, and that made it easier and fun for Rie to learn.

Rie’s works

Nick happened to stumble across Rie’s work in the book Ikigai: Giving Every Day Meaning and Joy by Yukari Mitsuhashi, where Rie did the book cover and illustrations. Rie shares that the publisher approached her upon seeing her exhibitions in London and some of her calligraphy works she posted on the internet. Aside from that, Rie also did some design work for a samurai game, has done pajama collections, and even performed body art. She shares that she loves the process of doing collaborative projects because it gives her new input and stimulation, and she makes use of her artistic skills to come up with unique ideas.

Mindfulness calligraphy

Mindfulness calligraphy can help us see the body and mind connection. By seeing our energy flow on a paper, we can reflect our present mind and discover our individual inner qualities. - Rie Takeda

Click to Tweet
Mindfulness Calligraphy

Rie offers an online course at Domestika (a website that showcases artists), where she teaches mindfulness calligraphy. She shares that she’s been teaching shodo with her mindfulness-based method for about 15 years. Mindfulness calligraphy can help people see the body and mind connection; by seeing their energy flow on paper, people can reflect on their present mind and discover their individual inner qualities -- the process is very healing because it generates positive energy and makes people feel lighter and peaceful.



In her classes, Rie also introduces another Japanese term: mushin (transparent, clear mind), a zen word consisting of two kanjis: mu (emptiness) and shin (mind); the body and mind become one and people become aware of their own energy, and make their energy flow lighter and smoother. 

So how can people experience mushin?

Rie explains that to sense , people need to relax and focus on their breathing -- letting the body tension go very slowly; it is like meditation where people can slowly become aware of their senses and pay attention to the fine sensorial feels; people can experience a  moment when enjoying a cup of tea, playing music, drawing, or another activity -- it varies with every person.

Visible energy flow

Shodo is all about the energy flow; Rie explains that when people move the brush on the paper, it is more about capturing the momentary energy flow with the brush and bringing that onto the paper -- the energy flow becomes visible instantly on the paper; Rie compares the brush to a transmitter, where it captures the momentum, and people can see the result.

The process of drawing a kanji character

When asked if she visualizes the kanji character that she hopes to draw, Rie shares that as a calligrapher, she decides what kind of feeling she likes to present, i.e., if it’s a moon, she would make an image of a bright full moon in autumn, and it will be different for a crescent moon on a summery night in June. In her course, she encourages her students to do their final piece with their personal input. She calls this seisho (calligraphy with a clear mind), where she makes her students visualize a particular feeling or image of what they’re going to draw; by staying in the flow and focusing on their breathing, they feel lighter and harmonize with the brush.

“The ink never lies”

Something that Rie mentions in her course is that “the ink never lies.” She explains that the ink reflects in what state a person is at the moment; the ink captures the flow -- it mirrors the person’s mood, so it is a truthful way of expression. Calligraphy is not only about doing art but also working on one’s self because it reflects a person’s feelings on paper. Sometimes people discover a particular hidden emotion while participating in a shodo session, and they would reflect those sensations and walk around them. Afterward, the shaky strokes become softer because they become calmer and have more freedom to move.

The Ink Never Lies. The ink captures and reflects the flow. You can see the mood and present moment. Calligraphy is a truthful way of expression. - Rie Takeda

Click to Tweet
The Ink Never Lies

The use of calligraphy to help therapists

Rie also conducts mindfulness calligraphy to help therapists rehabilitate people with neurological injuries, and children with autism; she witnessed many cases where the mindfulness calligraphy made a positive impact on the patients’ conditions: they showed improvements in their concentration and increase in mobility and flexibility, and they also see a higher level in oxygen saturation and improved heart rate. Hence, she wishes to continue doing that and see more positive results.

Rei’s ikigai and oshiegai

Oshiegai in Shodo

Rie considers calligraphy her ikigai, and shares that she also feels oshiegai (value in teaching) in shodo, especially when her students discover their inner connection and heal themselves by practicing shodo. At the same time she also learned a lot while teaching, and she’s grateful to all her students.


Rie mentions another Japanese term, wabi-sabi, as something that inspires her with her calligraphy. She defines it as the beauty of imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete things -- the nucleus of Japanese aesthetics. For her, it helps people understand a deeper natural cycle of life. She tries to express wabi-sabi in shodo by combining it with the sakura cherry blossoms, which makes it easier for her students to understand; when the sakura is in full bloom, then the wind will toss them all out, suddenly there is an absence of sakuras. Rie compares it with life, that people should appreciate every moment while it’s there. It represents the circle of life: flowers may fall, but they will come in full bloom again. Moreover, the sakura is not only appealing during springtime, even in the wintertime, it shows its beauty. Same as with life, in every stage of it, there is an imperfect beauty that it holds.


For the last part, Rie shares another aspect of Japanese culture in which she finds a great value: wa (peace or harmony), which means embracing each person regardless of the differences. It’s something that she always reminds herself of: having a big peace of mind and being accepting of each person that she meets.


The art of calligraphy is like a reflection of ourselves: what we draw is a representation of our feelings. We have different interpretations of how we see things, hence we produce unique results. The same is true with our ikigai: each of us has our ikigai, which may vary for every person.