Why Japanese Calligraphy Brushes Are So Expensive So Expensive

Why Japanese Calligraphy Brushes Are So Expensive So Expensive

Narrator 00:00:00.990
If a single hair is out of place on a high end calligraphy brush, it must be removed. This intense attention to detail is part of why these brushes can cost over $1,000. You can find a beginner brush for less than $15, but for handmade brushes custom designed for a master calligrapher. Artisans spend months turning raw hair into a perfect brush tip. But what makes these brushes unique and why are they so expensive? Calligraphy is a respected art form in Japan and has been practiced for centuries. But today there aren't many skilled brush makers left. Yoshiyuki Hata is a third generation brush maker and has been making calligraphy brushes since he was a teenager.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:00:53.973
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:00:54.790
His family's workshop in Kawajiri focuses on what they call no compromise craftsmanship. Each brush tip is handmade by a single artisan, but making these brushes isn't easy.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:01:18.140
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:01:18.700
For a master calligrapher like Daizo Kaneko. Small differences in a brush's hardness or ink retention can drastically affect the lines it can produce.

Daizo Kaneko 00:01:35.620
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:01:36.270
The dozens of steps involved in brush making start with selecting the hair. Different types of hair have a big impact on the price of a brush. Yoshiyuki specialty is one of the priciest - goat hair. This hair was collected 50 years ago from the chest of Yangtze River Delta white goats. Hair from this specific breed of goat is classified as Type three hair. Based on its size, luster and elasticity, it's a highly sought after hair for brush making because it's soft, yet durable and retains ink well.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:02:32.140
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:02:32.760
But today this type of hair is hard to find in large quantities and can cost thousands of dollars per kilogram. Selecting high quality hair is done entirely by eye, and it's one of the hardest skills for a new brush maker to learn.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:03:02.980
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:03:18.840
But this long process is just beginning. Once the hairs are chosen, they're boiled and combed to remove any fluff. This process separates straight, long hairs, which are ideal for brush making. One of the most time consuming steps is aligning all of these hairs. This delicate work is key to making a uniform brush, but it's largely based on experience and instinct.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:03:46.200
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:03:56.890
Throughout the process, brush makers patiently remove any imperfect or damaged hairs. [Music plays in background].

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:04:06.010
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:04:54.220
At this stage, Yoshiyuki's vision for a brush starts to take shape. After trimming, he wets the hair and combines different bundles to create a brush that is dense and durable. Then he dips the hair in funori, an adhesive liquid made from seaweed to hold the hairs together.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:05:18.760
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:05:35.650
The finished brush tip is almost unrecognizable from the raw hair, but the precise work isn't over yet. Once the hair dries, Yoshiyuki ties up the ends and burns each one with a hot iron, binding the hairs together. Any mistake here could ruin a month of work. Finally, it's time to assemble the brush. Like the brush tip, each handle is custom made.

Yoshiyuki Hata 00:06:07.340
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:06:23.180
This time consuming process, along with the materials used, means these brushes can cost a 100 times more than a mass produced brush. The price varies based on the size and type of brush. A larger brush requires more hair, which naturally increases the price. Hata Bunshindou brushes often cost around $1300, but some brushes can cost a lot more.

Koso Hata 00:06:49.030
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:06:58.380
Despite the high price. These brushes are essential tools for calligraphers like Daizo. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and has been practicing calligraphy for 20 years.

Daizo Kaneko 00:07:11.470
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:07:41.270
Some brush makers mix natural and synthetic hair to make brushes more affordable. But Yoshiyuki remains committed to using only the highest quality materials. Koso, Yoshiyuki's son, will be the workshop's fourth generation brush maker.

Koso Hata 00:07:58.700
[Speaking Japanese]

Narrator 00:08:17.000
But like many traditional crafts, the future of brush making is unclear. Demand for handmade brushes is in decline. Some brush makers have started selling makeup brushes to bring in new customers. But the main concern for Yoshiyuki and his family is the lack of raw materials.

Koso Hata 00:08:36.080
[Speaking Japanese]. [Music fades out].

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