With its picturesque quality and its scientific technique, Yuzen dyeing is an art form unique to Japan.
Takahashitoku, an elite dyeing studio in Kyoto, has for 100 years produced Yuzen dyes for the prominent manufacturer, Chiso.
The Takahashitoku studio is trying to preserve and make relevant this traditional art form for modern uses. They dye dresses and jeans for Yoji Yomamoto, one of world’s top contemporary designers. They also collaborated with a celebrated young artist and created scrolls and screens of his compute graphics paintings. For public, they hold classes for to experience hand painted Yuzen for fun.
“Tradition and techniques need to be accepted by people in order to survive’, says Kinya Takahashi, director of the studio. “But then what makes them acceptable? This question is always on my mind.”
The brush making in Sendai began in the early Edo period (1603-1868), when Date Masamune, the founder of the Sendai domain, invited a craftsman specialized in brush making from Osaka to promote learning and industry. Accordingly, the domain had its own brush-making craftsmen, and the low-ranked warriors also began to make brushes as their side jobs.
Because of their careful work and efforts to improve skills, Sendai Brushes gradually earned reputation, and eventually, it was dedicated to the Shogun of the time. Since then, Sendai Brushes have been deferentially called “Ofude,” which means “an honorable brush.”
Among Sendai Brushes, the ones made of hagi (Japanese bush clover) naturally grown in Miyagino, which was Masamune’s hunting field, is called Miyagino Hagi-fude. The wild touch of the brush-holder and the sensitive hair at the tip are favored by poets and fanciers all over the country as the hallmark of Sendai Ofude.
Souun Takeda, a calligrapher, was born in 1975 in Kumamoto. He started calligraphy when he was three years old, studying with his mother, Souyou Takeda, also a calligrapher.
After graduating from Tokyo University of Science majoring in Science and Technology, he worked at NTT for three years before he became a calligrapher. Since then, he has established himself through a series of unique and original pieces, often collaborating with other artists in various fields including Noh and Kyougen actors, sculptors and musicians, and unconventional one-man exhibitions. He also runs a calligraphy school where many of his students study. “Calligraphy is the same as a conversation. I just use calligraphy to communicate with people”, says the gentle but passionate Mr. Takeda, who is hailed as the new generation of calligraphy.
In 2003, Mr. Takeda received the Longhuacui Art Award from Shanghai Art Museum in China and the Constanza de Medici Award in Firenze, Italy. His work includes title letterings for many movies such as Spring Snow and Year One in the North. He also published three books; Tanoshika, Shoyudou and Sho o kaku tanoshimi.
Kukai (774-835) was a Japanese monk, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan. Kūkai is also famous as a calligrapher, and together with the Emperor Saga and the courtier Tachibana no Hayanari, he is admired as the “Three Great Brushes” (or sanpitsu).
Kūkai was born in 774 in the province of Sanuki on Shikoku island in the present day town of Zentsūji. He studied Confucianism at the government university in Nara, where he became disillusioned with his studies because he thought that Confucianism could not resolve social contradictions. He developed a strong interest in Buddhist studies and named himself Kukai.
In 804, he set sail for China as a menmer of the government sponsored mission, in which Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school of Buddhism, was also included.
After studying Buddhism techings and Chinese cultures, he finally met Master Huiguo (Jap. Keika), the man who would initiate him into the esoteric Buddhism tradition at Changan's Qinglong Monastery in 805. In a few short months he received the final initiation, and become a master of the esoteric lineage.
Kūkai arrived back in Japan in 806 and reside in the Takaosanji (later Jingoji) Temple in the suburbs of Kyoto. There he established his own sect of Buddhism, the Shingon sect. At the same time, he used his knowledge in civil engineering that he had learned in China and directed civil works in many places. He also exercised his talents in various fields such as caligraphy, painting and sculpture.
When the emperor granted Mt. Koya to Kūkai, he planned to build the monastic retreat centre. However, before seeing the completion of his ideal religious institution, he died in Mt. Koya on March 21st, 835.
In 857, Kūkai was awarded the posthumous title of “Daishojo (the Great Priest) by Emperor Buntoku in 857, and “Kobo Daishi” by Emperor Daigo in 921. Kūkai was the great saint, who contributed greatly to the development of Japanese Buddhism after the Heian period (794-1192), and a lot of folklore and legends pertaining to Kūkai still exist in every part of the country.
Arima doll-brush is a traditional craftwork handed down in Arima-cho, Hyogo Pref. A pleasant gimmick is made in this writing brush. Colorful silk thread is wound all around the brush-holder, creating beautiful geometric patterns. If you stand it up to write something, a lovely miniature doll will come out of the brush-holder, and it will retract into the holder when you lay it down. This is a very unique gimmick that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. This writing brush is highly popular as a souvenir of Arima Hot Springs. It is so popular that orders are placed even from a long distance. At Expo in 1970, Arima doll-brushes were exhibited in the Folk Craft Pavilion, where it received high acclaim and won a prize. Presently Arima doll-brushes are made only at Haifuki-ya Nishida Brush Shop. It is a precious craft product.
The purpose of shuji, Japanese calligraphy, is to write the correct word.
Shuji differs from shodo in that, while shodo shows the beauty of a written word, letter or character, shuji is about learning the word and improving one's concentration.
It is said that the art of shuji came from China and the Korean Peninsula. Later, the writing of shuji impacted the aristocracy and warrior class. The aristocrat wrote unfussy words. In contrast, the warriors wrote powerful words.
Shuji is a necessary aspect of a liberal arts education in Japan, which affects all other aspects of Japanese culture.
The making of Toyohashi brushes is said to have started in the late Edo period (the end of the 18th century), when the lord of Yoshida clan, who controlled this area, brought in a brush making workman from Kyoto and asked him to teach brush making techniques to low ranking samurai as their by-work. Toward the end of the 19th century, one of the workmen made an improvement to the old-style brush of Shinmaki-fude (with a core) and introduced a coreless brush called Suihitsu with the same structure as the brushes being made today, which formed the foundation of brush industry in Toyohashi. Toyohashi is ranked as the second in the nation’s brush production and as the top in producing expensive brushes for calligraphers. At the present time, 375 workmen are engaged in making brushes, following traditional methods and techniques. Toyohashi brush was nationally designated Traditional Craft Product in 1976. Brushes for calligraphy, painting, and handicraft are being made today.
Nara calligraphy brushes are highly evaluated by calligraphers and specialists. The master skills and techniques with a long history and tradition have been handed down in the brush making in Nara. The origin of brush making here is dated back to about 1,200 years ago, when the monk Kukai, who had journeyed to China and studied about brush making, returned to Japan and passed on his skills to the people living in Yamato Province (presently Nara Pref.). The most sensitive part in brush making is said to be the selection of the material hair. Considering the overall conditions of a brush he is making, a craftsman selects the most suitable material out of more than 10 kinds of animal hairs including sheep’s wool, and the hair of horses or deer. The quality of hair differs according to a habitat, the time of capture, and the part of the body from which hair is taken. Craftsmen select and combine the hairs to create a brush that is best suited for the user’s taste, exerting his full experience and efforts. Every step in the making process is done by hand. Here in the making of Nara brushes, a machine has no role to play even today.