Nara brush is one of the most historical brushes


What is Nara Brush?

The Nara brush is a brush made in the Yamato-Koriyama City area of Nara City, Nara Prefecture. It was designated as a traditional craft in October 1977 in recognition of the traditions inherited from the ancient times. From the selection of animal hair to the finishing touches, everything is done by hand by craftsmen. The Nara brush is such a masterpiece that it is said that the brush itself is a work of art.

Characteristics and Usage

In general, brush making is often done by introducing machines and dividing labor, but the Nara brush does not use any machines at all, and the entire process from material procurement to finishing is done by the brush craftsman alone. The Nara brushes, which are made with the excellent skills and discernment of the brush craftsmen, have sharper tips and are more beautifully shaped than ordinary brushes.

The most distinctive feature of Nara brushes is that they are made using a technique called the “kneading and mixing method. The “kneading and mixing method” is a technique in which more than a dozen kinds of animal hairs used for Nara brushes are mixed together to make brushes suited to the purpose for which they are used. The quality of the animal hair varies depending on the time of year and the part of the animal hair used, so the brush craftsman must have a sophisticated technique for selecting the animal hair one by one.

When kneading the raw bristles, which are the materials used to make Nara brushes, the brush craftsman kneads the bristles in a perfect balance so that the characteristics of each bristle stand out. This kneading and mixing process is said to be the most difficult part of brush making, and even the best brush makers need many years to master the technique. The Nara brush-making process, which is made from individual raw hairs, makes it easy to create brushes that meet individual needs, and many brushes are custom-made to order. Even today, Nara brushes are still deeply rooted and popular in calligraphy, watercolor painting, ink painting, and other art forms.

Source: Association of Women in Tradtional Arts and Crafts 

History of Nara Brushes

There are various types of brushes in Japan, such as Edo brushes and Kumano brushes, but the history of the Nara brush is so long that it is said that the roots of each type of brush can be traced back to the Nara brush.

The Asuka Period, when the history of brushes in Japan began

In the Asuka Period, Chinese culture was introduced to Japan, and at the same time, many brushes made in China were imported to Japan. In the Nara period (710-794), Japan was strongly influenced by Buddhist culture, and the demand for writing brushes increased with the spread of sutra copying. Many brushes from this period have been found in Shosoin, and it is believed that brushes were not only imported but also manufactured domestically.

Heian Period – Birth of the Nara Writing Brush

Around the 9th century in Heian Period, when Kukai returned from Tang Dynasty China as an envoy to China, he brought back Chinese culture, Buddhism, and many other art objects. One of them was the brush making method. Records show that Sakanaino Kiyokawa, who was taught the latest Chinese brush making method under Kukai’s supervision, started making brushes in Yamato, and presented the completed brushes to Emperor Saga. This brush-making method is the origin of the Nara brush.

Kamakura and Muromachi Period – Spread to Samurai

From this period, samurai families and Buddhist priests began to rise to prominence, and calligraphy began to spread not only among the nobility, but also among warriors and Buddhist priests as a form of etiquette. In addition, Zen monks from China came to Japan and spread a style of calligraphy called “Zen-style” (ink brush style), which increased the demand for Nara-style brushes in the field of art. In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), some craftsmen called “imperial brush smiths” began to supply brushes to feudal lords, and the quality and technique of Nara fudes were further improved.

Edo Period – Nara Brushes Popular among the Common People

During this period, many brush craftsmen settled in Naramachi (present-day Naramachi and Kitamachi areas), and many Nara brushes were sent to all over Japan. Especially among calligraphers, Nara brushes were indispensable and highly valued. On the other hand, brush making became popular among the lower class samurai who were struggling to make a living, and new methods of brush making began to appear. Kumano brushes and Edo brushes are said to have been born during this period.

The Meiji and Taisho Eras, which were supported in the fields of education and the arts, saw the development of a culture of education, and brushes used for reading and writing became indispensable tools. From this period, the brush became widely popular and used as stationery among the general public. Calligraphers and artists began to demand higher quality brushes, and Nara brushes in particular were highly valued and highly favored as a luxury item.

Nara brush
Japan Shopping now

Showa Period – Recognized as a Traditional Craft

In October 1977, the Nara Brush was certified by the Minister of International Trade and Industry under the Law Concerning the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, and designated as a traditional craft. Although brushes are also produced in Niigata, Hiroshima, Aichi, and Miyagi prefectures, the Nara brush is still a luxury item that many people use today.

The Nara Brush Today

Various animal hairs such as deer, sheep, squirrels, flying squirrels, and raccoon dogs are used to make Nara brushes. Compared to the past, animal hair has become more difficult to obtain, and brushes made of synthetic fibers are now being distributed. However, Nara brushes are still highly valued by artists and calligraphers for their unshakeable position as high-end brushes, thanks to the use of carefully selected animal hair and the handiwork of craftsmen that has been handed down over the years.

Manufacturing Method for Nara Brush

1. Combing

Comb through the hair, remove all the wattles at the base, spread them out on a board, and mix them well.

2. Firring the hair

Sprinkle ashes of rice husks on the hair, warm it over a charcoal fire, degrease it to improve the ink content, and then wrap it in deerskin and comb it to fix kinky hair.

3.Removing nails

Without using tools, remove hairs little by little with fingertips and trim the tips of the hairs.

4. Aligning the tips

Place the hairs together on a metal plate, tap the plate from the tip of the hairs, and use the vibration to align the hairs toward the tip of the hairs.

5. Reverse hair removal

Using a blade called a hansashi and your fingers, you pull out the reverse hairs, in which the tips and roots of the hairs are reversed. This is the first stage of hair selection.

6. cutting

A brush cannot be made from a single type of hair. Therefore, various types of hairs with different properties are cut into long and short lengths, with the first, second, and third hairs cut into the appropriate lengths for their roles.

7. Hiramegatame

The hairs are cut into small pieces and called hirime, and the matching of each piece is called hirime-meshi.

8. Mixing and kneading

The various types of hirime that have been cut into small pieces are kneaded together several times to ensure that there is no variation or unevenness.

9. Core setting

According to the diameter of the tip of the brush to be made, the bristles are passed through a small tube called a “Koma” to determine the thickness of the bristles. This is called “core setting.

10. Coating the top bristles

The top bristles are spread thinly and wrapped around the core.

11. Bending

A burning iron is applied to the end of the ear to harden the base, and then it is tied with hemp thread. This completes the ear.

12. Glueing

To make a hardened brush, the ear is dipped in a liquid of glue and allowed to soak into the inside of the brush.

13. Naze

While squeezing out the glue with a thread, the shape of the ear is formed.

14. Completion

The brush is completed when dry.

Nara Brush


Recently, while it has become more difficult to obtain animal hair as a material, brushes made of synthetic fiber are now available at home centers and 100-yen stores. Although Nara brushes are highly regarded, especially by calligraphers, opportunities for the general public to use them are decreasing, and the situation surrounding Nara brushes is difficult. With the spread of personal computers, even Japanese people have fewer and fewer opportunities to use a brush, but the taste of writing expressed with a brush is exceptional. The taste of writing with a brush is exceptional, and it is a part of Japanese culture that I would like people around the world to know.


|←    Nara Tea Whisk

 1        2


Let's share this post !