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Japan's Kumano Brushes

Kumano is a Japanese city close to Hiroshima. Whereas it is a small town, there is one thing that makes it very famous. Producing approximately 15 million brushes a year they craft about 80% of the total brushes in Japan. This included both calligraphy and high-quality make up brushes. 

With more than 5% of its 27.000 headed population being involved in the brush industry and about 80 local family-run brush businesses, the production of these brushes got recognized as a traditional art industry. 

In 2004 ‘Kumano Brush’ became an official trade name for Kumano’s calligraphy and make-up brushes, which are now appreciated and recognized by artists all over the world. 

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History

The origins of this town’s specialty date back to the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), where residents struggled to make ends meet due to the mountainous area, not ideal for farming. 

To supplement their income, people would buy Calligraphy brushes in Nara, where they would work in the forestry during winter times, and re-sell the brushes at home. Eventually, locates studied the art themselves and started to produce brushes in Kumano. 

In the mid-19th century the production, brand and popularity really took off due to a program to encourage development of crafts in the region, as well as the enforcement of mandatory education – including calligraphy classes. 

Nowadays, the town and brand are so famous, there is even a special ‘Brush festival’ that draws visitors from all over Japan to celebrate the industry’s prosperity as well as to ritually burn their used brushes and thank ‘them’ for their years of service!

Production Process of Kumano Brushes

The production of a single brush can easily take 70 different steps, more depending on the intended usage. Connoisseurs will sometimes make requests to a maker if they want to use a brush for something specific. 

Interestingly, none of the materials of the brushes come from Kumano. The brush’ animal hairs and materials for the grip are all important from Japan and abroad. 

It is therefore nothing but the Japanese, labor-intensive and high quality craftsmanship that results in this worldwide recognition.

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Hair-types used to Make Kumano Brushes

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Goat

Most commonly hair used for make-up and cleansing brushes.

It combines softness, elasticity and is great at holding powders.

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Grey Squirrel

Although expensive and less powder retentive, unless combined with pony or goat, it is the utmost gentle on the skin and helps create perfect finishing.


Using different types of animal hair, based on the intended usage of the brush, they create softness and performance un-achievable by mass-produced synthetic hair. The hair, being the most essential part of the brush, is carefully selected and combined. Included types of hair are pony, sable, squirrel, weasel, goat and PBT synthetic hair. 

Each hair type has specific features and is used or combined with other hair types accordingly. For example, Pony and goat hair are often used for powder retaining brushes, firm water badger hair almost exclusively for eyebrow brushes, and squirrel hair is the utmost gentle on the skin. Their shapes are designed to create a perfect finish. 

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Pine Squirrel

Less cohesive than Gray Squirrel, it is smooth, soft and delicate, allowing for soft color application.

Perfect for eye-shadow and highlighting. 

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Pony

Relatively inexpensive and strong powder retentive. 

Often used in combination with other, less retentive brushes to create a good stability. 

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Weasel

Gentle, smooth and elastic. A very versatile and durable hair type , used for powder and liquid brushes, including eye-shadow, eye liner, lip- and nail art brushes. 


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Kolinsky

Expensive and similar to weasel, adding a firm suppleness and cohesive tip, perfect for nil art and dental technicians.  


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Pahmi

Rough, short and firm hair, which is only good for powder application after being blended with pony, weasel or water badger. 

For eyebrow- and shadow. 

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Tamage

Rounded hair type, gentle on the skin. Supple, soft and powder retentive. Short and expensive hair type, mainly used for fine lines in eye shadow and nail art.  

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Water Badger

Firm, with a fine tip, they are almost solely used for eyebrow brushes, perfect for drawing fine lines on the eyebrow tail, as well as powder application on imperfections. 


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PBT (Synthethic)

Can be produced in different sizes, colors and forms. Resilient and great to apply cream and liquid. 

Well suited for foundation, concealer and lip brushes.