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THE ART AND HISTORY OF JAPANESE BRUSH MAKING

June 17, 2019
June 17, 2019
Freestock via Unsplash

What do calligraphy and makeup have in common? Both require a good brush for the best results. Kumano, a city in Hiroshima Prefecture, is the home of Japanese brush making. It has a long history going back to the Edo period (1603-1868) and is responsible for making 80% of all calligraphy, paint, and makeup brushes manufactured in Japan.

The mountainous geography of the area forced farmers to supplement their income by traveling to Nara prefecture, to work in forestry. On their travels, they would buy calligraphy brushes and resell them. Around 1840, a group of farmers decided to manufacture brushes themselves, giving birth to the Kumano manufacturing method. Today brushes are still handcrafted, using the same techniques passed down for centuries and officially recognized as a Traditional Craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

It takes ten years of training to become a fude-shi or brush-making craftsman, and requires artisans to gain the knowledge necessary to proficiently handle animal hairs for the bristles and judge quality in the 30 steps it takes to create a Kumano brush. Most of the production process is still done by hand in an assembly line of artisans each focusing on one element. Each brush will pass through the hands of 10 or 12 people before it is finished.

BRUSH-MAKING PROCESS

  1. Selection of the best type of hair for the intended use of the brush.
  2. Removal of inferior hairs by experienced and skilled workers using touch and a small knife called a hansashi.
  3. With only perfect hairs remaining, they are inserted tip first into a wood mold called a koma to be shaped into the desired brush tip. Komas are still handmade and are specific to each type of brush.
  4. Once brushes have their shape they are inserted into a ferrule or fastener to keep their form, glued, and then washed thoroughly.
  5. After the brush is dry it is attached to a handle often made of Japanese wood or metal. Once complete the brush goes through a series of inspections.

FUDE MATSURI BRUSH FESTIVAL: Japanese culture is full of acts of mindfulness and gratitude. During the brush festival, people bring their old brushes and throw them on a cremation pyre. This ritual is “to honor the souls of the brushes, for the work they’ve done,” as explained by Takemori, president of Chikuhodo Ltd. Alongside the brush pyre stands a stone monument with the inscription “A brush dances to the wind of the heart.”

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