If you are interested in Japanese traditional crafts, why not check out Nara calligraphy brushes? Kukai is a famous monk who introduced Buddhism to Nara from China in the 9th century. He also brought back with him the techniques of making calligraphy brushes. Nara brushes are known for their flexibility. Using them, anyone can draw beautiful characters like no other. These brushes are made from a mix of up to ten different types of animal hair.
Nara Crafts: Calligraphy Brushes
The history of brushes in Nara dates back to around 1,200 years ago. Kobo Daishi – also known as Kukai – returned from China, after studying the teachings of Buddhism, and founded the Shingo sect of Japanese Buddhism. The monk brought back with him Chinese brush-making techniques. The production of brushes spread throughout the country. However, it was not until school education became compulsory, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), that Japanese people began to use writing brushes on a daily basis.
The raw material is very important for Nara brushes. Craftsmen use only animal hair. They select the hair for its hardness, softness, elasticity, and flexibility. They also choose hair that can absorb a large amount of ink. Brushes hair come from animals such as sheep, goat, horse, deer, tanuki, weasel, rabbit, or even squirrel.
The manufacturing process involves a traditional technique unique to Nara’s brushes, called nerimaze-ho, or the blending method. Craftsmen dip the hair in water to harden it and decide which hair should be used and in what quantity. They can then obtain the perfect mix that will correspond to the desired characteristics (hard or soft brush for example).
This time-consuming method, craftsmen can only make a few brushes per day, however, allows producing some of the most famous brushes in Japan. Thus, for centuries, writers and calligraphy masters have come to choose their brushes in the city of Nara. Each line drawn with one of these brushes gives a unique feeling, both to the person drawing it and to the one who admires it.
Akashiya, a brushes manufacturer well established
Akashiya, in the city of Nara, is an institution with more than 380 years of history. The company opened in the middle of the Edo period. It produces approximately 2 million brushes per year. It aims to transmit the tradition and elegance of Japanese calligraphy to the world.
Today, the company manufactures of course traditional brushes for sumi (ink) calligraphy. But also more modern tools such as fude pen which are a mix between brush and pen. In Peko Peko’s New Year’s box you will find a fude pen, wrapped in a beautiful origami paper with traditional patterns. Perfect for practicing calligraphy without needing all the materials.
A traditional custom in Japan for the New Year is kaki zome. This is the first calligraphy of the year, the first kanji that the Japanese compose after the New Year. Our challenge? Write a character (eg yume as on your washi card included in the box) and send us a photo!