Nara brushes Nara fude
The foundation of brush making in Japan
Extreme flexibility using many types of animal hair
What is Nara brushes ?
Nara brushes are called Nara fude in Japanese. They are brushes produced in and around the city of Nara and also the city of Yamatokoriyama, in the Nara prefecture. Nara is considered to be the birthplace of brush making in Japan. The oldest brushes existing in Japan are the 17 Tenpyo brushes (Tenpyo hitsu), which were a part of the imperial treasures that belonged to the Emperor Shomu (the 45th emperor of Japan, 701-756). These brushes are kept in the Shosoin (treasure house in the Todaiji Temple in Nara).
A distinctive feature of Nara brushes is that they are made from ten or more types of animal hair by skillfully combining different properties of the hair such as elasticity and length. This traditional method is called neri maze (mixing method).
The animal hair used for Nara brushes 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 animal species but also the difference in hair quality of individual animals, the hair from each body part, or the time of year when the hair is harvested.
In the process of making a brush, the brush masters (called hissyo) examine the specific features of the hair, adjust them repeatedly, and mix them many times so that numerous different qualities of the hair are well distributed without any deviation. During the mixing method, the animal hairs are soaked in water individually to harden them, and the composition and size is determined based on the characteristics of the hairs. Then, they are mixed to complete an exquisite brush tip.
The history the brush is very old and the origin is said be 2300 years ago in China, when a general presented a brush made from animal hair to the first Emperor of Qin (259BC- 210BC Qin Shi Huang founder of the Qin dynasty). Brushes were first brought to Japan in the early Asuka period (592-710), and since then, a lot of Chinese brushes were imported along with the Chinese culture.
The brush making tradition in Nara started about 1200 years ago. It is said to have started in 806 (the first year of the Daido period, 806-810) when a Japanese envoy to the Tang dynasty, Kukai (1185-1333, a grand master who propagated the Buddhist teaching) 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 were learning Buddhism at that time in Nara, and the brushes made in Nara were spread among high priest monks and scholar monks.
In later days when kana characters (syllabic Japanese scripts) came into use, a new demand for more delicate brushes arose due to the need to draw curved lines more easily. Against such a background, the foundation of Nara brush was established by brush masters. They brought out the best features of the limited types of animal hair and skillfully combined them to make brushes.
General Production Process
- 1. Hair assembly and sorting The hairs to be used are classified depending on their thickness, length, and/or softness for each of the purpose of use. Then they are sorted into different groups called inochi ge (the tip), nodo ge (throat), hara ge (stomach) and koshi ge (the half top). The closer to the half top the more hair become elastic. 10 types of raw hair are chosen to create well balanced softness and hardness, which can give a good ink absorption to the brush head.
- 2. Combing out
The raw hairs are combed to remove any fluffs at the root of hairs and spread onto a board to mix them very well.
- 3. Hair rolling and plucking
The ashes from burning rice husk are laid on the raw hairs and warmed up with charcoal fire, then rolled firmly to remove the oil content. After removing the oil content, the hairs are rolled into the buckskin. Furthermore, the hairs are straightened and the tips are aligned by removing unnecessary hairs little by little using fingertips. This process is called tsumenuki which means "plucking" in Japanese.
- 4. Aligning and removing puffed hair
The hairs are placed together on a tool called tegane, a hand held metal plate, and the tips are patted using teita, a hand held board. The vibration by patting on board helps to align the hair tips.
Then, puffed hairs are picked off using a small blade free knife tool, which is technically called hansashi.
- 5. Flattening
The hairs are soaked into the water and fixed to flatten them after the aligning process.
- 6. Shaping
Each section of hair 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. Mixing hairs
After the shaping process, the hairs are carefully mixed over and over again. During this process, the hairs with inadequate tips are also removed.
- 8. Core making
A type of glue called funori is added to the mixed hairs to form the core hairs of a brush.
Next, the hairs are inserted to a small cylinder tool called koma to determine the thickness and they are then dried naturally.
- 9. Wrapping hair
The finer quality hairs called keshoge are thinly spread and wrapped around the core, which is then sent to further dry. This will become the brush head.
- 10. Tying with linen thread
The dried brush head called hokubi is tied with a linen thread and a hot iron is applied to the base of the brush head to burn and solidify it. The brush head is now completed.
- 11. Inserting the brush
A brush holder 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.
Then, 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.
Where to Buy & More Information
Nara Prefectural Shoko Kankokan "Kitemite Nara Shop"
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