Kumano brush

Brushes made in the “Land of Brushes” sustain Japan’s traditions

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Kumano Brush (2016)Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Workshop of Kumano brushesArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Land of brushes

The fude brush has helped to sustain many Japanese traditional cultural aspects, such as calligraphy, ink painting, pottery, and lacquer ware. The lines and characters created by the brush ensure the continuation of the production of brushes and the passing down of the craft. Kumano town in Aki county in Hiroshima prefecture is well known as Japan’s largest brush production site. Located about 15 kilometers to the east of Hiroshima city, Kumano town is the “Land of Brushes” sitting in a highland basin surrounded by abundant nature. Here, many brush masters continue to create brushes.

Aerial photo of KumanoArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

The origin of Kumano brush

Kumano town is located in a basin that lacks flat plains, making it unsuitable for rice growing. For this reason, since the Edo period men from this town would travel to Kumano in Kishū or Yoshino in Nara to work during the agricultural off-season. On their way to these places they would pass through areas that produced writing brushes (such as Arima in Hyōgo or Nara) and because brushes were easy to transport, they began selling brushes as a commodity, thus began the history of brush making in Kumano town. 

A stone Monument to the founders of Kumano brushArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

A stone Monument to the founders of Kumano brush

After that brush-making techniques were introduced from Arima during the Tenpō era (1830-1844), allowing Kumano town to become Japan’s largest brush production site since the Meiji period.

Materials for making Kumano brushesArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

for making Kumano brushes

Materials used traditionally in Japan to make brushes used to be the hair of animals like deer, raccoon dogs, and horses found in Japan. However, today imported animal hair such as that of weasels, goats, and rabbits is used. To ensure that the hair can absorb ink well, the hair is first treated with ash to remove oil. It takes great craftsmanship to blend the different types of hair depending on the purpose of the brush. This step is called kegumi and the blend can greatly influence the quality of the brush.

Kumano brush production process: preparationArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Production process: preparation

Hair removed from animal skin contains retrorse hair or fluff and must be treated before it can be used. For this reason, the hair is carefully combed several times and the tip of each hair is felt by the brushmaker’s fingertip to remove any unusable hair using a small knife called hansashi. This step can only be done by hand and the final brush must meet the vital sen-sei-en-ken criteria, that is, pointed and adequately arranged tip, while allowing easy drawing of circles yet the hairs do not break during the process.

Kumano brush production process: bench workArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

process: bench work

Next, the hair is gathered together nicely using funori glue made from seaweed. The hair bundle is repeatedly spread out to a thin layer and mixed. After this the amount of hair required for one brush is separated out and put through a small cylinder called koma. The hair then goes through the shindate (“stand the core of the brush hair”) step and shaped like the ear of rice plant. To ensure the hair can absorb ink well and to enhance the flexibility and aesthetic appearance, a layer of hair is added to this core bundle. The finished bundle of hair is then left to dry naturally. The bottom is tied using a hemp thread, pressed against a hot iron to melt the glue contained in the hair to fuse the bottom end together. 

Kumano bruch production process: finishingArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

process: finishing

The finished brush head is fixed onto the handle. In the case of bamboo, it is warmed to straighten any distortion and curve, while the inside is hollowed to allow the bottom of the brush head to fit in and be glued. After the brush head is fixed to the handle, funori is abundantly applied to the brush head to ensure the brush head is maintained in good condition. Excess glue is scraped off using a string and then the brush is left to dry. The signature or brand is engraved into the handle using a special knife and a kamifuda (a small piece of paper) is adhered onto the handle.

Fude no Sato Kobo 1st floor: The world of brushesArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Enjoyment of using fude brushes

Kumano brush comes in a variety of styles and each requires the many steps mentioned before. A user of a Kumano brush can choose the right brush according to his/her preference in writing, painting, or using it in various crafts. Famous Japanese artists like Munakata Shikō, Uemura Wadō, Uno Sesson, and Sakaki Bakuzan all favored the use of Kumano brush. At Fude No Sato Kobo, a museum of brushes in Kumano town, visitors can learn about the history of the fude brush and how it is made through displays. The museum has an exhibition room dedicated to the Kimura Yōzan Collection — the biggest and best collection of brushes in the world — and a museum shop where you can try out and buy brushes.

Cosmetic brushes, Kumano brushArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

New development: make-up brushes

Kumano makeup brushes were born from the techniques of calligraphy brush making. Having been put on display in the Taishō era, Kumano makeup brushes have evolved  since after WWII by adapting to the great changes in makeup techniques. A prominent characteristic since the post-war period is that there are many competing companies established with varied technical systems and quality standards, including companies aiming to further develop European makeup techniques, companies focusing on producing cute shapes, as well as small-staffed companies that pride themselves in high-standard stable supplies of quality products. Today, the number of companies producing brushes preferred by world-famous Hollywood makeup artists or for international brands has increased, leading Kumano to become a highly acclaimed production area of makeup brushes

Fude no Sato Kobo

Museum of Kumano Brush

Credits: Story

Information provided by: Fude no Sato Kobo

Text written by:Murata Takashi

Movie byTakayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Exhibition created by:Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Wada Azusa(Kyoto Women's University)

English translation by:Eddy Y. L. Chang

Directed by:Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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