As writing tools, brushes have been used in Asian district and the culture is said to begin about 2300 years ago in China. Such brushes were brought in to Japan in Asuka period, 6th to 8th century when the Japanese positively adapted Chinese culture.
In Heian period (794-1185), the manufacturing technique was obtained by Kukai, aka Kobo Daishi who started Shingon Buddhism, and he taught it to Sakanai Kiyokawa in Yamato (current Nara prefecture). Then the tradition of brush making in Japan and Nara Brush production began and that was about 1200 years ago.
The artisans there have succeeded the brush making methods since then. From more than 10 types of animals such as horses, dears, sheep, and raccoon dogs, variety of hairs are obtained. Those hairs are assorted by their resilience, strength, and length, and artisans combine them for usefulness.
To make the brush absorb ink well, the hairs are covered by rice husk ash and rubbed to remove oils. After the length is sorted, the hairs are soaked in water and the core is formed. Covering the core by over hair, the root part is tighten by hemp thread and baked a little to complete the tip. Usually, artisan’s name is engraved after the tip is set to the holder.
Since animal hairs are all different from each other and each one of them has its own peculiarity, it is very important all the steps are done by hand for Nara Brush.
Brushes have been used for writing documents or stories since Asuka period, but also used for art, Japanese calligraphy. When Meiji period (1868-1912) started and western culture flew in, people started to use pencils and pens, but use of brushes was also encouraged for education. Nara brush brushes have been loved as highly qualified brushes for calligraphy in modern Japan.
Nara Brush was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1977.