Japanese Crafts: A Guide to Kumano Brushes

In recent years, Kumano brushes have been becoming more and more popular and are now used by top makeup artists who work with Hollywood actresses and famous models. The brushes were originally made by farmers of the small agricultural community of Kumano in Hiroshima Prefecture, western Honshu (mainland Japan). For over 200 years, they kept improving their crafting techniques, and now 80% of Japan’s domestic calligraphy and painting brushes come from Kumano. They’ve even been designated as traditional Japanese crafts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry!

The History of Kumano Brushes

Courtesy of Hiroshima Prefecture

Kumano brushes are now a traditional Hiroshima craft, but in the beginning, they were just something for farmers to peddle. During the farming off-season, farmers would travel for work to what is today Wakayama and Nara Prefectures, then buy Nara-made brushes and ink and sell them in the towns they passed on their way back home to Kumano. In 1800 (late Edo Period), some of the farmers brought back brush-making techniques that they’ve learned in their travels and introduced them to Kumano. That was the beginning of Kumano brushes.

Kumano is located in a basin where farming land is scarce. It was also not easy to get to, so not many industries could thrive there. However, brush-making was perfect for Kumano as it was something people could do at home or as a side job while watching over their children. Over time, as they watched their parents work, these children would pick up their brush-making techniques. It was an excellent environment to raise generation after generation of skilled artisans. And thanks to the Hiroshima Domain’s support for local industries, the craft of Kumano brushes quickly began to flourish.

After the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), Japan expanded its educational system, which raised the demand for Kumano brushes. During WW2, as the demand for regular writing brushes stagnated all over Japan, Kumano managed to save itself by using their techniques to instead make painting and makeup brushes, which they produce to this day. Today, 80% of Japan’s domestic brushes come from Kumano, which has earned it the nickname “The City (or Capital) of Brushes.” It’s no surprise then that in 1975, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry designated these brushes as a traditional Japanese craft.

The Characteristics of Kumano Brushes

Courtesy of Hiroshima Prefecture

To qualify as a Kumano brush, the product must be made in Kumano using specific crafting techniques. They can, of course, be used for writing, but there are also painting brushes, makeup brushes, and many other varieties, all of which differ in terms of the size and length of the tip and have many different subvarieties. That’s why when buying a Kumano brush, be sure of exactly what you need and what you need it for.

The brush-making artisans (known as “fudeshi”) spend years developing their skills, and many now are famous. The foundation of any Kumano brush is the hair, so any artisan worth their salt needs to have an eye for choosing the right material for the job. Most brushes are made with goat, horse, deer, tanuki (racoon dog), or Japanese weasel hair, all of which have their pros and cons when it comes to elasticity, consistency, and hardness.

Kumano brushes are made by hand, so it takes time to complete even one. After choosing the right hair, ash is rubbed into it to make it more ink-absorbent. Then, the artisan straightens out the hair and uses their fingertips to look for and discard retrorse hair and other defects, leaving only the most fine-quality hair. The next step involves cutting it all down to the desired size. This hair will become the core of the brush around which the artisan will wrap more high-quality hair. After being treated with heat, the crucial “hokubi” tip of the brush is completed.

Next, the hair is attached with glue to the handle, on which the artisan carves their name, giving it its own personality. The entire production process requires a very delicate touch and years of experience to get right. Some Kumano brushes sport the Kumano brand mark on them, and those are the ones to look for if you’re in the market for the highest-quality brushes possible.

Kumano Brushes Today

Courtesy of Hiroshima Prefecture

Kumano brushes can be used for things like regular writing or calligraphy, but their use has been steadily expanding over the years. They also make excellent gifts, as they're not just high-quality but also have a real presence and a sense of luxury about them, which can be seen in everything from their design to their packaging. It’s no wonder that Kumano makeup brushes are beloved by top makeup artists who work with Hollywood actresses and famous models!

Kumano even holds their own Kumano brush festival, which goes all the way back to 1935 and celebrates the area’s brush culture and its artisans, and gives thanks to the local nature that provides the raw materials for making these tools. The festival also includes a memorial service for old brushes, a calligraphy competition, and other events.

* It still hasn’t been announced if the festival will take place in 2021.

Featured Products

Long Finishing Powder Brush (Maruhira) 55mm

Source: BECOS

This is a round powder brush made from goat hair which, interestingly, is not cut to size but rather bundled into the final shape, something which only a few artisans are capable of doing. This makes the brush durable while feeling much softer on the skin. With proper care, it will last you for years. You can’t get anything of this quality anywhere else.

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Short Lip Brush (Round Flat) 10mm

Source: BECOS

This is a Kolinsky round flat makeup brush which is as easy to use as the brush mentioned above while allowing for extremely precise and beautiful strokes. More brush varieties are available, so you can assemble a collection that’s perfect for you.

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Check out the other brush varieties here

Long 9-Piece Set With Pouch

Source: BECOS

This is a luxurious set of nine high-quality makeup brushes for every part of the face. It comes with a pouch, a 100% cotton BISYODO towel, and 30 ml of the new Fude Bijin makeup brush cleaner, making the set a perfect gift.

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Related articles:

▶ 4 Amazing Japanese Makeup Tools That Japanese Makeup Fans Highly Recommend

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

▶ Traditional Japanese Crafts by Industry: Textiles, Ceramics, Dolls, Kokeshi, and More!

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer's website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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