Nara brushes Nara fude
The foundation and craftsmanship of brush making in Japan
Exquisite flexibility is achieved by ten or more different types of animal hair
A fude is a brush and a Nara Fude is a brush produced in and around Nara City and Yamatokoriyama City, Nara Prefecture. Nara is considered to be the birthplace of brush making in Japan. The oldest existing brushes in Japan are the 17 Tenpyo-hitsu (Tenpyo brushes), which were a part of the imperial treasures belonged to the Emperor Shomu. These brushes are kept in the Shoso-in treasure house.
A distinctive feature of Nara Fude is that they are made from ten or more types of animal hairs, by skillfully combining different properties of the hairs such as elasticity and length. This traditional method is called neri-maze-ho (mixing method). The animal hairs used for Nara Fude include squirrel, flying squirrel, weasel, raccoon dog, sheep, horse, deer and rabbit hair. The quality of the completed brushes is affected not only by the species of animal from which the hair originated but also the difference in hair quality of individual animals, the body parts used, or the time of year when the hair is harvested. In the process of making a brush, the master brush craftsmen called hissyo examine the specific features of the hairs, adjust them repeatedly, and mix them many times so that numerous different qualities of the hairs are well-distributed without any deviation. In the neri-maze-ho, the animal hairs to be used are soaked in water individually to harden them, and the composition and size is determined based on the characteristics of the hairs. Then, the hairs are mixed to complete an exquisite brush tip.
The history of fude is very old, and the origin is said to go back 2300 years ago in China, when a general presented a brush made from animal hairs to the first Qin Emperor. Brushes were first brought to Japan from China in the early period of the Aska Era (592 - 710), and since then a lot of Chinese brushes were imported along with Chinese culture.
The brush making tradition in Nara started about 1200 years ago. It is said that it started in 806 (the first year of the Daido period) when a Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty, Kukai (later called Kobo Daishi), returned from Tang. He brought back the knowledge of Chinese brush manufacturing techniques and then taught the skills to Kiyokawa Sakanai in Yamato. There were a lot of scholar monks who where learning Buddhism at that time in Nara, and the brushes made in Nara were spread among high-rank monks and scholar monks.
In later days when Kana characters came into use, a new demand for more delicate brushes had arisen due to the need to draw curved lines more freely. Against such a background, the foundation of Nara Fude was established by hissyo. They brought out the best features of the limited types of animal hairs and skillfully combined them to make brushes.
General Production Process
- 1. Kegumi (Hair assembly)/Senbetsu (Selection)
The hairs to be used are classified in accordance with the usage, such as the thickness, length, or softness of brushes, and then selected into the following groups: inochi-ge, nodo-ge, hara-ge and koshi-ge. Parts of a brush head are called inochi-ge (hairs of life), nodo (throat), hara (stomach), koshi (loin) from the tip of a brush, and the closer to koshi the more elastic hairs are used. About 10 types of raw hairs are selected, which have well-balanced softness and hardness and can contain ink very well.
- 2. Nukiage (Combing out)
The raw hairs are combed to remove any fluffy hair at the root of hairs, spread onto a board, and mixed very well.
- 3. Kemomi (Hair rolling)/Tsumenuki (Plucking)
The raw hairs are sprinkled with ashes that are produced by burning rice husk, and warmed up by charcoal fire. The hairs are then rolled firmly to remove the oil content before being rolled into buckskin. After that, the hairs are straightened and the tips are aligned by removing unnecessary hairs little by little by using fingertips: this process is called tsumenuki (plucking).
- 4. Saki-soroe (Aligning)/Sakage-tori (Removing Sakage)
The hairs are placed together on a tool called tegane (hand-held metal sheet), and the tips are patted using teita (hand-held board) so that the tips of the hairs are aligned with the help of vibration (saki-soroe). Then the hairs facing in the wrong direction (sakage) are pulled out using a hansashi (small knife-shaped tool that does not have a blade). This process is called sakage-tori.
- 5. Hirame (Flattening)
After the saki-soroe process, the hairs are soaked into water and arranged in a flat shape.
- 6. Katachi-zuke (Shaping)
Each group of hairs (inochi-ge, nodo-ge, hara-ge and koshi-ge) is cut to the required length, and the long and short hairs are mixed to form a gradation in order to create the shape of a brush head.
- 7. Neri-maze (Mixing)
After the katachi-zuke process, the hairs are carefully mixed over and over again. During this process, the hairs with inadequate tips are also removed.
- 8. Shintate (Core-making)
A type of glue called funori is added to the mixed hairs to form the hairs into a core of a brush (shin-ge). Next, the hairs are pushed into a small tube called koma to determine the thickness, and then dried naturally.
- 9. Uwage-kise (Wrapping hair)
More beautiful, finer quality hairs called kesho-ge are thinly spread and wrapped around the core (shin-ge), which is then further dried: this will become a brush head.
- 10. Ojime (Tying with linen thread)
The dried brush head (hokubi) is tied with a linen thread, and a hot iron is applied to the base of the brush head (hojiri) to burn and solidify it. The brush head is now completed.
- 11. Kurikomi (Inserting the brush)
A brush holder (fude-jiku) is scraped with a small knife to be adjusted to the thickness of the brush head. Then the brush head is firmly glued into the holder.
- 12. Finishing
The brush head that was inserted to the brush holder is dipped into funori until it is saturated with the glue. Next, a linen thread is wrapped around it to squeeze out any excess glue. The brush head is given a final shaping and left to dry.