A craftsman well versed in the tradition of Japanese brush making
When I travel to Kyoto city, less than an hour by train from Nara-machi, to visit the flagship store of the Hiroshima-based brush company Hakuhodo, I am drawn to the world of exquisite beauty brushes. The store is a modern white box, with lighted display cases and a skylight reminiscent of a James Turrell installation, unlike the Ippodo tearoom across the street. In Kyoto, brush making has all but disappeared – the other three fude shokunin are too few to merit the dento kogei designation – but the city is known for its traditional arts and high culture.
Hakuhodo uses the word “fude” liberally to describe its hundreds of makeup applicators, which look like highly specialized versions of cosmetic brushes sold in department stores around the world. They are priced according to their materials and range from around $ 15 to several hundred. A powder brush, encased in a plexiglass wallet case, has Hello Kitty painted in lacquer and gold powder on its handle (and costs around $ 800). I choose a small fan brush to remove the mascara lumps (when I later try it with Japanese Dejavu Fiberwig Mascara, it makes me feel like I’m wearing false eyelashes), and a double-sided brush comb for eyebrow grooming that has a 24k gold ferrule that attaches it to a pleasantly heavy handle lacquered in the same shade of vermilion as ‘a sanctuary door.
A polite saleswoman shows me how a popular eye shadow brush works differently depending on the hair it is made of. Kolinsky (a kind of stone marten banned in the United States) applies a soft, soft color and can be used for concealers and gel eye shadows. The horse applies the thicker shadow, building it up faster. And the goat is good for depositing glitter and bright colors. She explains that tufts of synthetic hair are well suited for quickly applying foundation and mixing liquid color, but natural hair picks up more powder. A long, thin brush for drawing on eyeliner drops looks like menstruation Fude in Tanaka’s Shop, designed to paint the face of a doll; its soft, flexible bristles require professional skills to control, but can form a fine line of unparalleled elegance.
Most of Hakuhodo’s brushes are, in fact, yofude, or Western-style brushes distinguished by a metal ferrule holding the bristles in place. Kumano, the city of Hiroshima where they are made, first made a name for itself with brushes – and now cosmetic brushes. Hiroshima farmers who worked in Nara during the off-season used to bring fude home to sell for additional income, and in the early 19th century, the Kumano Estate sponsored artisans from Nara to teach these farmers the art of the brush. Today, 80% of brush manufacturing in Japan is done in Kumano. The process is divided into separate tasks, each assigned to a different craftsman, so it is easier to outsource to a machine or factory overseas.
Tanaka says doing each step itself, entirely by hand, is inefficient; but it makes you worry about the whole process. She is dedicated to carrying on the Nara fude tradition, but her friend encouraged her to add makeup brushes to her repertoire. A small window in his shop displays lip brushes like those depicted in the 19th century ukioy-e paintings of courtesans and round puffs of soft pink goat hair resting on a sturdy cypress handle that resembles those of Kumano paintbrushes. These she calls “burashi”, A Japanese pronunciation of“ brush ”, to distinguish them from fude. (I buy an itachi lip brush with a bamboo handle and water buffalo horn, but it’s so beautiful I’m afraid to use it.)
As passionate as she is about Nara Fude, Tanaka tells me that she would discourage almost any youngster from undertaking the decades of study, dirty and laborious work, and uncertainty that come with a career in brush making. . She earns enough to keep her store open, but it is her husband’s salaried work that supported their family. I ask why she’s stuck with this all these years. She replies, “Because it’s always fun and interesting. In her heart, she said, she wished her daughter (now a mother too) could find the same joy in being fiery.