Kawajiri brushes

Kawajiri brushes Kawajiri fude

Excellent calligraphy brushes from the Setouchi region; a child of the renowned Kyo brushes
A difficult technique, neri-maze, must first be mastered to produce brushes of sublime quality


What is Kawajiri brushes ?

A fude is a brush and Kawajiri Fude are mainly used for calligraphy and produced in Kawajiri Town in the east of Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture. The town lying at the foot of Mt. Noro and fronting onto the calm Seto Inland Sea is blessed with rich and verdant nature, and enjoying a temperate climate is in an ideal location for making brushes. From olden times, Kawajiri Fude have been known all over Japan as superior quality brushes, and recently, the production of paint and makeup brushes has been added to meet a broad range of new demands.
Kawajiri Fude are characterized by its production methods employing highly-skilled hair-mixing techniques known as neri-maze. The whole process from beginning to end 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 although it might be considered to be inefficient, such labor intensive methods ensure the very highest quality standards. Their smooth and soft tips more than meet the precise demands of calligraphers and Japanese-style painters, and Kawajiri Fude are much appreciated by many artisans, artists, and professionals.


The origin of Kawajiri Fude dates back to the end of the Edo period. In 1838, Sanzo Kikutani, a brush merchant, traveled to Arima in Sesshu province (present Hyogo Prefecture) to purchase calligraphy brushes for sale in private elementary schools and other institutions of the Kure area. With the success of the business, Kikutani encouraged local villagers to take advantage of the quiet farming winter season and take up brush making. In 1850, Yaekichi Ueno employed brush making craftsmen from Izumo province to begin brush manufacture, and this is considered to be the origin of today’s industry.
Over time, brush production steadily developed, and particularly, from the end of the Meiji period through to the early Showa period, the industry experienced its golden years. Conscription of many craftsmen during World War II reduced production, but gradually along with the increasing postwar prosperity the Kawajiri Fude industry recovered. The industry management was later streamlined to meet the demands of the new era and today, Kawajiri Town has grown to be a noted production center making up 20% of annual domestic production.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Selecting Unprocessed Hair Traditionally, a wide variety of hair has been used including goat, weasel, horse, and raccoon dog. The first step is to remove bent or twisted hairs with a hansashi knife; the artisan is looking for good quality hairs with resilience and luster. They need a trained eye 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 hairs under these variable conditions requires many years of experience. Unprocessed hairs, after the initial selection and grading, take on a new life ready to be processed into a quality brush.
  2. 2. Kegumi (Sorting) Hairs are checked for uniform length and quality and now further divided into five types of hair in accordance with the brush part where they will be used. The craftsman carefully selects different hairs to match a mental image of the completed brush.
  3. 3. Watanuki (Removing Fluffy Hairs) After boiling and thoroughly drying the hairs, a metal comb is run through many times to completely remove watage (cotton-like fluffy hairs found near the skin).
  4. 4. Removing Oil Rice husk ashes are sprinkled onto the hair, and heat applied with a hinoshi (flat iron) to straighten out any curls. To remove oil, the heated hair is rolled in buckskin and gently massaged.
  5. 5. Sakiyose (Tip Aligning) After aligning and combing the hairs, the hair tips are made uniform using a yosegane tool. The hairs are laid on a curved metal plate, and with a second plate subjected to gentle tapping and vibrating to make them uniform; this process takes considerable time, and is repeated dozens of times until all hair tips are aligned.
  6. 6. Removing Inferior Hairs Any damaged (surege) and hairs facing in the wrong direction (sakage) are thoroughly removed. Although a seemingly simple task, it requires much skill and sensitive fingertips. In this way only the very finest quality hairs are left. This task is repeatedly performed throughout the subsequent stages of production.
  7. 7. Sungiri (Cutting to Size) A brush head is divided into several sections; in accordance with the ideal length for each section, the hair base section is cut using a sungi wooden tool and scissors. To accurately align the length, hairs are repeatedly trimmed.
  8. 8. Nemodoshi For each section length trimmed during sungiri, its base is aligned and put together. Any inferior hairs such as sakage are also found and removed using a hansashi knife.
  9. 9. Hirame (Flattening) The hairs are tied so as to ensure an even finish after soaking in water, and any inferior hairs are removed. The wedge shaped lump of hairs are loosened, and spread flat on a glass sheet; this process is applied to each of the different length hair bundles.
  10. 10. Neri-maze (Hair-Mixing) The purpose of neri-maze is to ensure a thorough and even mixing of the hairs of different length. First, each length of flattened hair is laid out as a strip 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 in this way, they are stacked and flattened together, and by repeating neri-maze, the different hair lengths are thoroughly mixed to finally create a smooth brush head with absolutely no roughness.
    Neri-maze is an artisan skill requiring much practice to master, and produces high quality brushes with a present firm feel and few if any split hairs at the tip.
  11. 11. Shintate (Core-Making) Hairs soaked with funori (seaweed glue) are flattened and separated into clumps suitable for a single brush and then passed through a 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. 12. Uwagemaki (Wrapping Hair) A thin outer layer of even higher quality hair (uwage) is evenly wrapped around the core. For these uwage as well, once again neri-maze is meticulously performed.
    The core is again passed through the koma to adjust the shape before being left to dry naturally.
  13. 13. Itojime (Tying Thread) The base of the brush head is firmly tied with linen thread soaked in water.
  14. 14. Shime-age (Tightening) A hot iron is applied to the base of the brush head to solidify and prevent loss of hair and shape. The brush head is now completed.
  15. 15. Kurikomi (Fitting the Brush) The completed brush head is fitted to a hikkan (brush holder) usually made of bamboo or another type of wood. The hikkan is laid on a kurikomi-dai (wooden block) and rolled by hand while the inner side is evenly scraped with a knife, ready for the brush head to be secured with glue. At this stage, the brush is called a sabaki-fude.
  16. 16. Removing Glue To make the brush head more durable, it is first soaked in funori glue, excess glue is removed, and the brush head combed. A linen thread is then wound around the brush head and the holder is rotated to squeeze out any remaining glue.
  17. 17. Engraving the Maker’s Name The name of the maker is inscribed on the holder. Usually, the characters are cut in the reverse order of the strokes used to make a written character.
  18. 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

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