Since starting her blog, Sweet Makeup Temptations, in 2012, Sonia G. has cultivated a passion for well-crafted makeup brushes. Join Sonia as she recounts her experience at the legendary brush festival held in Kumano, Japan every year.
Every year on the autumnal equinox, thousands gather in the sacred Japanese city of Kumano for The Fude Matsuri (The Brush Festival) to celebrate—that’s right—brushes.
Home to eighty manufacturers, Kumano is an entire town known for handcrafted brushes that you either own or wish you did. The town started manufacturing calligraphy brushes around 1840. Today the need for calligraphy brushes may have leveled off, but Kumano also supplies artistic, medical and, of course, gorgeous makeup brushes that we know so well.
The first Kumano Fude Festival first took place on September 24th 1935 to honor Emperor Saga (786-842, AD), known as one of “The Three Brushes,” a cohort of the greatest calligraphers in Japanese history.
As a devotee of the Kumano brushes, I had been wanting to attend the festival for years. Finally, I was able to visit Kumano during their Fude Matsuri celebrations for the first time. I loved it so much that I committed to come back every single time I could.
If you truly are a Kumano Fude lover, this is where you can meet most representatives of the eighty family-owned brushmaking brands like Tanseido, Takeda, Koyudo, Mizuho, Chikuhodo and others. They are all there, working at the booths, talking to you about their work or walking around enjoying the festivities and having a delicious snack. Some of the Kumano businesses are bigger than others, but they are all so friendly and welcoming, they made me feel like I belong.
The gentleman standing on the right hand side of the above picture looking towards the Torii, is Mr. Tesshyu Takemori, a Master Artisan and Chikuhodo’s Chairman. In 1997 he handed over the Presidency of the Company to his son, Mr. Shin Takemori.
Kumano area twice the size of Geneva but nowhere near as dense. Some roads are really tiny, and cars practically need to do yoga to move around in some spots. The area between the Festival, the well-known brush manufacturer Chikuhodo, and the museum (Fudenosato Kobo) is manageable on foot.
If you visit Chikuhodo, you can see all the brushes displayed. Even if you cannot buy every single brush you want, you can take useful notes for your future purchases! I note all those that capture my attention for a future splurge. Koyudo and Chikuhodo’s boutiques are open and may even offer discounts on their current lines during the festival.
The Festival starts at 10AM and ends at 5PM. A festival program is supplied so you can find all the amazing events that are happening.
For example, don’t miss the Master Calligrapher composing a message on a huge canvas on the ground. Every year the organizers invite a different artisan for this performance—one of the most spectacular events of the day.
There are many places where you can try calligraphy yourself or create postcards with traditional methods. Many many traditional activities are happening right in front of you, including paper-making.
At the Chikuhodo booth, an artisan demonstrated step by step instructions on brush care, like how to remove bad hair from the brush, how to use a “Kamisori,” and how to seal the bristles with the seaweed coating “Nori.” They make sure you do it yourself and then you can leave with your very own calligraphy brush!
But the Fude Matsuri isn’t all about the events and free brushes. Take time to eat the delicious food. The weather is humid at this time of year, so I especially love the festival’s lemonades, which use local honey and lemons. The honey comes from the Kasahara honey farm, which is located in Suo Oshima, the lemons come from Setoda, a famous town known for its lemon production in Onomichi, Hiroshima.
Some other food stands are located in the brush stand area, like these fresh Tai-yaki fish-shaped cakes that are filled with custard or red beans, a mandatory snack.
Most of the food and drink happens in a separate big area nearby; you can sit there and enjoy the food and the music, then go back to the brush area rested and ready for more.
You’ll find many calligraphy, paint or makeup brushes available. Most are outlet type of brushes that are not sold at the shops. Some are prototypes or may have minor faults but they are still good, not to mention cheap! If you are a pro, this is the place to buy replacements or backups at great prices. You probably know the main brands like Chikuhodo, Takeda, Mizuho, Tanseido, etc. but there are others you’ve probably never heard of, it’s really interesting to have a look in person.
If you are a Fude collector these outlet type of brushes may not surpass your own selection, but you will still find some amazing tools. I don’t buy that many brushes but I always find excellent ones that I truly enjoy using for makeup, calligraphy, and even for painting.
Last year I had the privilege to meet Troy Surratt, owner of Surratt Beauty at the Festival, it’s amazing to meet such huge personalities and realize that they are so friendly in real life and so easy to talk to.
You also have to plan a visit to the Kumano brush museum, Fudenosato Kobo. You can enjoy the tour and then buy brushes or other souvenirs; they really have beautiful cards, writing paper, towels, books, a Japanese delicatessen, etc. Too many tempting things!
At the museum, you can watch a master artisan making calligraphy brushes. When I visited, I met Mrs. Shaquda, Mizuho’s Director. We gathered next to the master artisan to take a souvenir pic.
As I was walking and looking at the calligraphy works drying on the floor, a man called me and kindly forced me to write something, he did not even give me the choice. He picked one word, handed me the brush and asked me to proceed…
I sent this picture to a friend of mine in Kumano and asked her what this word meant: it says ‘WA’, which has various meanings such as circle, round, peace, harmony, sociable, friendly, it’s a very nice word, I am pleasantly surprised that she could even read what I had written!
This is where you’ll see me at every autumnal equinox, I hope you are considering a trip there and if you do, I’ll meet you there!
After building apersonal collection of over 2,000 brushes, Sonia set out to create her own line of tools. With an eye for exquisite craftsmanship, efficiency, and performance, Sonia designs brushes to bring joy to the experience of applying makeup—from the shape of the handles, to the feel of the bristles on the skin, to the flawless, perfectly blended results in the mirror. Shop Sonia G. brushes here.