Koyudo, brighter than the sun

In a town which has a history of brushmaking that goes back over 150 years, Kyoyudo is a relative newcomer. Its founder, Fujimori Uematsu made his ambitions clear in choosing the Chinese characters for the name of the company he set up in 1978, which mean “brighter than the sun”.

Uematsu received his initial instruction in calligraphy-brush making from the head priest of a nearby shrine, introduced through a family connection with Kumano’s Sakakiyama Shrine, the center of activity during the town’s annual brush festival. After three months learning the basic techniques, he returned home to continue practicing. He says that it took him three years to master the craft.

Still, Uematsu aimed higher, studying under master brushmakers, all with their own individual specialities. He even recreated a Tenpyo-hitsu brush that was gifted to Japan by Chinese envoys some 1300 years ago. Umematsu spent a year working on the brush based on X-rays of an original and various texts. The broad knowledge that Uematsu gained during his years of training, contributed to creating a Koyudo technique that is an amalgamation of all of Japan’s regional brush making styles.

Uematsu attributes this deep knowledge of calligraphy brush making to the company’s success in the field of makeup brushes. Kyoyudo’s resident officially recognised master craftsmen (dentou-kougei-shi), Yusui Teragauchi, who studied under Uematsu, describes him as the perfect combination of craftsman and businessman.

Facing a steady decline in the market for calligraphy brushes, in the early 2000s, Uematsu turned his attention to crafting makeup brushes that were made with traditional brush making materials and techniques that produce products of unrivaled quality. Not only that, Koyudo has distinguished itself by creating unique and easily recognizable brush designs, such as its trademarked heart and flower-shaped makeup brush heads.

A wide range of makeup brushes are on display in the foyer of the company’s makeup brush making factory in Kumano. On a tour of the factory, the similarities with the work at Koyudo’s calligraphy brush workshop are striking. Notably, the attention to checking the quality of the brushes – the brush heads are checked for stray and anything less than perfect natural hairs over and over before they move onto receiving finishing touches.

70% of the people working in Koyudo’s calligraphy workshop and makeup brush factory are women. Although brush making has traditionally been a male profession, women have played an important role in Kumano’s success. A mix of women working full-time and on family-friendly part-time schedules help keep Kumano’s production lines going. According to Uematsu, this division of labor allows them to master techniques that usually take years a decade in just 3 months.

I notice one room is closed off. I’m told that this is the top secret area where Koyudo-crafted brushes destined to be sold as some of the world’s biggest cosmetics brands are prepared.

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The undisputed brush capital of Japan | Master brush maker Yusui Teragauchi | Koyudo, brighter than the sun