Toyohashi brushes Toyohashi fude
High-quality craftsmanship and a high-class brush
With the smooth feel and flow loved by professionals
Toyohashi Fude are calligraphy brushes produced in the area centering on Toyohashi City in Aichi Prefecture. As top class and high quality brushes, they are the favorite of many calligraphers; however, the artisans also make brushes for cosmetic makeup, Japanese painting, and many traditional crafts, with the numbers of brush types and their applications amounting to several hundreds. The area is the second largest brush producer in Japan after Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture; the overall annual production of Toyohashi Fude is 1.8 million brushes and its premium range accounts for 70% of the high-end market.
The characteristic features of Toyohashi Fude are they easily soak up sumi ink and their smooth feel when writing; both are a result of the neri-maze production technique. The hairs of raccoon dog or weasel are used, and the thickness and length of the brush head and differences in the degree of stiffness and flexibility of each hair type are carefully assessed. Hairs are then soaked in water, combed, and mixed together to ensure easy ink absorption. This feature gives the calligrapher a feeling of stability when writing, earning the brushes their impressive reputation.
In 1804, the lord of the Yoshida domain invited a brush maker from Kyoto to come and work for the domain administration. At that time, the Yoshida domain had financial difficulties and its lower ranking samurai were making brushes as a supplementary income. Toyohashi is located in a mountainous region, making it relatively easy to secure the hair of the raccoon dog and weasel. In addition, it was one of the 53 post towns of the Tokaido Highway; this helped spread Toyohashi Fude across the nation. Later, in the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), Haga Jirokichi promoted the making of a coreless brush called a suihitsu (present calligraphy brush). This new production technique improved the previous brushes with their paper-wound core and is still being used today. His apprentice Sano Jusaku further improved the suihitsu, and the foundation of the current Toyohashi Fude was established. The postwar baby boom and the reintroduction of calligraphy to the school curriculum heralded the golden age of Toyohashi Fude and they spread once again throughout the country. In 1976, Toyohashi Fude was designated as a Japanese traditional craft.
General Production Process
- 1. Selection
The quality and length of the raw materials are visually inspected and classified by purpose. Then, hair is boiled or doused in boiling water; the water temperature is adjusted depending on the hair type. The bundles of hair are then dried and a metal comb is run through to remove unnecessary hairs.
- 2. Hair Rolling
Bundles of each type of selected hair are mixed with rice husk ashes and rolled in buckskin to remove the oil content, which improves absorption of the sumi ink. Then, hair tips are aligned and hairs allocated to the tip, middle, or base section of the brush head.
- 3. Combing
The hair tips are aligned and with a brush makers’ specialized metal comb the bundles of hairs are carefully combed to shape the brush head.
- 4. Neri-maze
The different hair types of the three sections are soaked in water and evenly mixed; this is the most characteristic process of Toyohashi Fude, and allows the creation of a flexible brush that easily soaks up sumi ink. The way of evenly mixing and blending the core hairs with no loss of hair is a testimony to the many years of experience and skills of the craftsman.
- 5. Core-Making and Wrapping Hair
Poor quality hairs are removed from the bundle tip to ensure the brush tips will not split. Then, from a bundle, a single brush core is separated out, rounded, and inserted into a mold to form the core shape. The finished core is dried and then a thin outer layer of evenly-combed fine quality hair is wrapped around the core to produce a brush with the characteristic smooth feel of writing, so loved by calligraphers.
- 6. Finishing
The brush head is soaked in glue to harden, and linen thread wound around its base is firmly tightened to adjust the brush head shape. Then, the completed brush head is inserted and glued into a bamboo holder, and sun-dried to finish. Finally the name of the artisan or product name is engraved on the brush holder.