China was the birthplace of the brush. It started with a brush of animal hair made by General Meng Tian in the Qin Dynasty and presented to the emperor Shi Huang-ti. In the Yamato period, the brush was introduced to Japan along with Buddhism and Chinese script.
At the beginning of the Heian era, Kobodaishi (Kukai) travelled to China as an envoy to T’ang court, where he learned how writing brushes were made. He then introduced it to Japan. Kukai himself taught the method to a certain Seisen Sakai of Yamato and made Sakai present it to Emperor Saga. This so-called Nara brush was the start of brush making in Japan.
There are no less than dozens of kinds of animal hair, including sheep, cat, raccoon, dog, rabbit and weasel, used in making brushes now. Moreover, the suppleness of the hair is quite different depending such factors as on which part of the body the hair or fur grows, when it’s cut or where it’s from. While Chinese brushes are generally produced, mixing a couple types of animal fur, Japanese ones often combine as many as ten kinds of hair. This is because there are only a few animals in Japan suitable for brush making and their harvest is small. The various mixtures of animal hair produce special qualities in each kind of brush, showing the wisdom of the traditional Japanese brush maker still alive.
The Japanese brush is called “Wahitsu”; the Chinese style is called “Tang-hitsu”. Each is made by a separate method as explained above. In addition, the shape of the Japanese brush is more delicate than the Chinese. In the Japanese brush, the working of the pointed hair called “Noge” or “field hair” is especially valued. Wahitsu is made by making the best use of a particular material for easy brush writing and there is a wide variety of types. Therefore, Japanese calligraphers have an array of brush choices to achieve nuances of expression. The calligrapher and professor at Tokyo Gakugei University, Mr.Hideaki Nagano stated that “Japan might be the land of the technical brush.”
The brush is a traditional craft that has supported the Japanese culture, and it is indispensable in watercolor and oil painting, including calligraphy, Nihon-ga and sumi-e styles of Japanese painting. Recently it has come into limelight as a make-up brush, on the strength of its technical superiority and overall quality. Kumano in Hiroshima Prefecture is famous for producing about 80% of the brushes in Japan; they are known as the Kumano brush. It was the brush manufacturing company, Hakuhodo, that made the Kumano name renowned for brushes not only in Japan but also throughout the world. This make-up brush of the highest quality using finest traditional craftsmanship has legions of fans everywhere, including international actresses and leading make-up artists.