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Calligraphy is an art form that has been studied for over three thousand years. A knowledge of calligraphy is an important step in the understanding of Japanese culture. Calligraphy is not merely an exercise in good handwriting, but rather the foremost art form of the Orient. It is the combination of the skill and imagination of the person who has studied intensely the combinations available using only lines. In the West, calligraphy was intended to suppress individuality and produce a uniform style. Japanese calligraphy (sho in Japanese) attempts to bring words to life, and endow them with character. Styles are highly individualistic, differing from person to person. Japanese calligraphy presents a problem for westerners trying to understand it; the work is completed in a matter of seconds so the uninitiated cannot really appreciate the degree of difficulty involved.
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The Cursive Script (sometimes called Grass Script) is a fully cursive script, and a person who can read the Semi-cursive Script cannot be expected to read the Grass Script without training. Entire characters may be written without lifting the brush from the paper at all, and characters frequently flow into one another. Strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing and to create a beautiful, abstract appearance. Characters are highly rounded and soft in appearance, with a noticeable lack of angular lines.
The Regular Script is one of the last major calligraphic styles to develop, emerging between the Chinese Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period, gaining dominance in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and maturing in the Tang Dynasty. It emerged from a neatly written, early period semi-cursive form of clerical script. As the name suggests, the Regular Script is "regular", with each of the strokes placed slowly and carefully, the brush lifted from the paper and all the strokes distinct from each other. The Regular Script is also the easiest to recognize and read, as it is the script in which most beginners learn to write East Asian scripts.
The Seal Script (often called Small Seal Script) is the formal script of the Qin system of writing, the informal script of which was precursor to the Clerical Script. Seal script is the oldest style that continues to be widely practiced. Today, this ancient style of Chinese writing is used predominantly in seals, hence the English name. Although seals (name chops), which make a signature-like impression, are carved in wood, jade and other materials, the script itself was originally written with brush and ink on paper, just like all other scripts.