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Kawajiri brushes Kawajiri fude
Excellent calligraphy brushes from the Setouchi region
Top-class traditional techniques are used to obtain this superb quality
What is Kawajiri brushes ?
Kawajiri Brushes, called Kawajiri Fude in Japanese are mainly used for calligraphy and they are produced in the town of Kawajiri in the east of the city of Kure, Hiroshima prefecture. This town, lying at the foot of Mt. Noro and fronting onto the calm Seto Inland Sea, is blessed with a rich and verdant nature, and the warm climate is an ideal location for making brushes. From olden times, Kawajiri Brushes have been known all over Japan as superior quality brushes, and recently the production of paint and makeup brushes have been added to meet a broad range of new demands. Kawajiri Brushes are characterized by their production methods using highly-skilled hair mixing techniques known as neri maze. The whole process is carried out by just one craftsman and every single brush is handmade. For this reason, these brushes are not suitable for mass production and may be considered to be inefficient with such intensive labor. However these methods ensure the very highest quality standards. Their smooth and soft tips meet the precise demands of calligraphers and Japanese style painters, and Kawajiri Brushes are much appreciated by many artisans, artists, and professionals as well.
The beginning of Kawajiri Brushes dates back to the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). In 1838, a brush merchant named Sanzo KIKUTANI traveled to Arima in the Sesshu province (current Hyogo prefecture) to purchase calligraphy brushes to sell at private elementary schools and other institutions of the Kure area. With the success of this business, he encouraged local villagers to take advantage of the off-season for farmers in winter and take up brush making. In 1850, Yaekichi UENO employed brush making craftsmen from the Izumo province to begin brush manufacturing, and this is considered to be the origin of today's brush making industry. Over time, brush production steadily developed and the industry experienced its golden years particularly from the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912) until the early Showa period (1926-1988). The conscription of many craftsmen during World War II reduced production, but gradually along with the increasing postwar prosperity the Kawajiri Brush industry recovered. The industry management was later streamlined to meet demands of the new era. Today the city of Kawajiri has grown to be a noted production center producing 20% of annual domestic production.
General Production Process
- 1. Selecting the material
Traditionally, a wide range of hair has been used including goat, weasel, horse, and raccoon dog. The first step is to remove bent or twisted hair with a special knife called hansashi. The artisans look for quality hair with resilience and luster. They need a trained sense and feel to assess the quality of hairs. In addition, the hair condition changes depending on the temperature and humidity of the day, and to distinguish fine quality hair under these variable conditions requires many years of experience. After the initial selection and grading, the hair is ready to be processed into a quality brush.
- 2. Sorting
Hairs are divided into five types according to the place of the brush they will be used, and are sorted into the uniform length and quality. The craftsmen carefully select different hairs while picturing the completed brush.
- 3. Removing fluffs
After boiling and thoroughly drying the hairs, a metal comb is run through them many times to completely remove fluffs found near the skin.
- 4. Delipidation
Rice husk ashes are sprinkled onto the hair, and the hair is heated with a flat iron called hinoshi to straighten out any curls. To remove the lipids, the heated hair is rolled in buckskin while still hot and is gently massaged.
- 5. Tip aligning
After aligning and combing the hair, the hair tips are uniformed using a tool called yosegane. The hair is placed on a curved metal plate and the plate is tapped gently with another plate, which creates vibration that uniforms the hair tips. This process takes considerable time and is repeated dozens of times until all hair tips are aligned.
- 6. Removing inferior hairs
Any damaged or surged hairs as well as retrorse hairs are removed. Although this may seem like a simple task, it requires great skills and sensitive fingertips. In this way only the finest quality hairs are left. This task is repeatedly performed throughout the subsequent stages of production.
- 7. Cutting to size
The hairs are cut to the designated length for each part of the brush. The hair root is placed on a wooden tool called sungi and cut with scissors. To accurately align the length, the hairs are repeatedly trimmed.
- 8. Adjusting
The cut hairs are sorted by length, aligned and tied together. Any inferior hairs found are removed using a hansashi knife.
- 9. Flattening
The hairs are tied to ensure an even finish, soaked in water, and any inferior hairs are removed. The wedge shaped lump of hairs are loosened, and spread flat on a glass sheet. Each of the hair bundles of different length go through this process.
- 10. Hair mixing
The purpose of hair mixing is to ensure the different lengths of hairs are thoroughly and evenly mixed. First, each length of flattened hair is laid out and rolled up from one end using the hansashi knife, and then spread flat again. This task is repeated many times for each length of hair bundle, which is then combed to remove any inferior hairs. When all the different lengths have been worked, they are stacked and flattened together, and the different hair lengths are thoroughly mixed to finally create a smooth brush head with absolutely no roughness by repeating the process of hair mixing. This step requires much practice to master, and with that it produces high quality brushes. The quality brushes have smooth and even brush stroke where the brush tips do not split easily.
- 11. Core making
Hairs soaked with seaweed glue (funori) are flattened and separated into clumps suitable for a single brush. Then they are passed through a special cylinder called koma to determine and adjust the core size. Although this task is carried out manually, the degree of error is as small as only 0.001 gram. After the final removal of inferior hairs, the core is left to dry naturally on a sieve.
- 12. Wrapping uwage
A thin outer layer of higher quality hair called uwage is evenly wrapped around the core. The uwage also goes through the hair mixing process beforehand. The core wrapped with uwage goes through the koma again to adjust the shape before being left to dry naturally.
- 13. Tying threads
The root of the brush head is firmly tied with linen thread soaked in water.
- 14. Tightening
A burnt iron is applied to the root of the brush head to solidify and prevent loss of hair and shape. The brush head is now completed.
- 15. Fitting the brush
The completed brush head is fitted to a brush holder called hikkan usually made of bamboo or wood. The brush holder is laid on a wooden block called kurikomi dai and rolled by hand while the inner side is evenly scraped with a knife. The brush head is then secured with glue. The brush at this stage is called a sabaki fude.
- 16. Removing the glue
To make the brush head more durable, it is first soaked in glue (funori). Then excess glue is removed, and the brush head is combed. A linen thread is then wound around the brush head and the holder is rotated to squeeze out any remaining glue.
- 17. Engraving the craftsman's name
The name of the craftsman is inscribed on the holder. Usually, the characters are carved in the reverse order of the strokes used to make a written character.
- 18. Completion
As seen by the number of steps, each brush takes considerable time to finish and every brush is handmade with the greatest care and attention.
Where to Buy & More Information
Go Kawajiri Fudezukuri Center
Closed1st and 3rd Monday of the month
Business Hours9am to 5pm
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