Kumano, a city in Hiroshima-prefecture, is known in Japan as the ‘Capital of Brushes.’ A total of 80% of brushes produced in Japan come from Kumano, but the materials are all imported from either overseas or neighbouring prefectures.
Kumano has a very interesting history with brush making. In the past, the city used to buy brushes and ink from Nara and sell them to locals. This was an extra income in addition to the rice plantations. Hiroshima-prefecture encouraged this activity, and Kumano started to produce its own brushes.
Kumano makes calligraphy brushes, which is great because calligraphy is both a subject in school as well as a traditional art form in Japan. Additionally, brushes are produced for painting and makeup. The cosmetics industry in Japan gained fame in the later years and many people from surrounding countries still come to Japan to buy makeup.
Makeup brushes produced by Chikuhodo
Chikuhodo produces high-quality make-up brushes in Kumano, Hiroshima. Chikuhodo, first founded in 1952, is one out of about ten makeup brush producers in Kumano. Chikuhodo. Today they have 107 employees, 95% of which are female. This is quite unusual in Japan!
In Kumano, Chikuhodo produces approximately 50,000 brushes per month. These brushes are handmade with a mixture of hair from squirrels, goats, horses, weasels, badgers and/or raccoon dogs. The hair that is used will depend on what type of brush is being made. Chikuhodo has worked together with many Japanese brands such as RMK, CHIKKA and ARTISA&ARTIST, as well as brands from overseas, such as Bobby Brown and Chanel.
Typically, the hair from a weasel is quite rough, and so it is a good option for making shaving brushes for men. Depending on the consistency of the makeup, a different type of animal hair (or combination of hairs) will be used accordingly. International brands tend to have harder cosmetics, thus a mixture of goat hair and other hair is used. Japanese cosmetics often need softer brushes, and therefore it is more common to us squirrel hair.
How to make a Chikuhodo makeup brush
The first step in the process of making brushes is to hand-select the best hair, clean it, and then put into a machine that adds a small amount of ash in order to make it easier to handle. The machine mixes the hair and arranges it into even parts so that it can be stocked.
The hair is then trimmed by hand to remove any damaged or weak strands of hair. It then goes through a careful process in which a special machine aligns the hairs allowing the brush maker to tie together the strands to form the particular brush shape. Each type of hair has different qualities, and consequently the shape of the brush will depend on the particular hair that is used.
The hair is now in its final shape, and it is time to attach the handle and do the last trimming of any stray hairs. The handle is attached with glue to ensure that no hair falls out, and then a machine, to ensure security, tightens the handle. The brush is now finished! The brush making process can take years to perfect due to the incredible attention to detail that it requires.
It is no easy job learning how to use many combinations of animal hair to create perfectly shaped brush. Yet each brush looks as perfect as if it had been done entirely by machine. Chikuhodo has a small shop where you can buy brushes directly from the source.
Fude no Sato
Fude no Sato is a museum in Kumano City in Hiroshima, dedicated to Kumano’s history of brush making. At the museum, you can find the largest brush in the world on display, weighing in at 400 kg!
The best part of the museum is the demonstration showing how calligraphy brushes are made by hand in the traditional way. There are two kinds of calligraphy brushes: Kenichi and Gyutou. Beginners typically use Kenichi more, and advanced learners use Gyutou.
How to make a traditional calligraphy brush
Creating a high-quality calligraphy brush is a lengthy process involving many time consuming steps. The end product, however, is a beautifully crafted traditional Japanese brush.
When making a Kenichi brush, hair from goat, horse, deer and pig is used in multiple layers. These tend to be the finest hairs. Once the hair has been chosen, it is cleaned with deerskin, ashes are added, just like with makeup brushes, and then it is heated to kill any bacteria. The hair is brushed and trimmed to remove uneven or damaged hair strands. After repeating this process several times, the hair is finally cut into the correct length.
Next, the hair is dipped in water and merged together by being flattened against the table, rolled up, and then flattened again. This process is repeated at least 10 times to ensure the best results.
The hair is brushed repeatedly, and then fitted tightly into a plastic holder. Once the hair has dried, the butt of the hair is burned fitted into the handle. This technique is used to prevent hair from falling out when the brush is used. The handles are made from many different materials, such as cherry tree, bamboo and even plastic.
Once the hair has been fitted into the handle it is dipped into a special kind of glue. The excess glue is then removed by using a string, which I found this to be the most fascinating part of the process. Then the last step is to engrave the handle! Overall a very neat process.
I'm an adventurer who moved to Japan and bought a house in the country side after 6 months of traveling in Asia. I have a B.A in Tourism and I just launched my own webpage: www.paintmeparadise.com. I love doing things considered 'impossible' and proving people wrong. I work hard to make my dreams come true, one day I want to make a living off of writing and photography because it makes me happy.
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