Japanese Brush: Gift from Nature

Tamayo Samejima
3 min readMar 6, 2021

In China, people started using brushes even before the 11th century BC. Later, it was introduced to Japan and used for copying Buddhist scriptures as well as making administrative documents. Since there were many large temples like Todai-ji, which is famous for the Great Buddha Statue, the ancient capital Nara became the major production center for brushes.

If you have a chance to visit a traditional art material shop in Japan, you would be overwhelmed by rich variety of brushes. The kinds of animal hairs used for brushes are goat, horse, deer, racoon dog, weasel, rabbit and so on. The softness and length of the hair differs depending on not only the animal kind but also on which part of the body hair of the animal is used.

To paint soft texture like a cherry blossom petal or a belly of goldfish, you would use a soft brush, and to paint hard texture like a pine tree brunch or a rocky mountain, you would use a hard brush.

Brush makers sort through animal hairs to make an appropriate texture, length and thickness.

The making process requires lots of work.

It begins with sorting out quality hairs. Then craftsmen would boil them in white water resulting from washing uncooked rice, in order to sterilize, soften, straighten the hairs, and remove oil from them. After drying, sort them out into three: longest hairs used for the center and tip of the brush, mid-length hairs used for the middle of the brush, and the shorter hairs used for the rim of the brush. The longest hair always touches a paper, so it is vital and is called Inochi-ge, or Life Hair in Japanese.

The selected hairs are then combed, coated with ashes, and wrapped in a deerskin to be kneaded and ironed. Craftsmen then mix the sorted three kinds of hairs to make a brush and insert and glue it into a tip of a bamboo handle.

Most of traditional art material shops allow you to touch brushes and try writing with water. If you buy one, do not forget to wash and dry it carefully each time after using, because brushes are made of animal hairs!

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to incorporate Sumi-e artwork into your home or office space? By appreciating these artworks, you can experience the beauty and Zen spirit of Japan in your daily life. They would also make exclusive gifts for yourself and your loved ones.

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Tamayo Samejima

Sumi-e (Japanese traditional ink painting) Painter, Online Sumi-e Classes, Items on Etsy https://www.tamayosamejima.com/en/