Fude (ink brush) ()

The term "fude" refers to a tool made out of a stem (thin stick such as bamboo tube) with a brush (a bundle of fiber) on the top, which is used for writing and painting.

As the character "毛" literally means the hairs of an animal and is used in the word for 'brush,' a coat (animal) (in rare cases, chemical fibers) is usually used.; and the letters for fude are called Mohitsu (literally, a brush made of coat).


Bristles (of horse, Japanese mink and raccoon dog) and soft hair (of sheep, cat and squirrel) are used to make fude. In addition, chicken and peacock feathers, as well as mongoose and flying squirrel coats, and, as the materials that are not animal in nature, straw and bamboo are used for 'special' fude. Most areas that produce fude are those which have animals which are used in the production of fude. Recently, "taimo fude" (ink brush made of newborn baby's hair) is sometimes made in order to wish the healthy growth of the newborn baby.
A fude that offers the merits of both bristle elasticity and ink absorption in its soft hairs is called a 'kengo.'

The brush is used to write letters, draw pictures or apply makeup; one holds the stem, dipping the brush into Chinese ink or pigments, and rub the brush against the item the ink is to be applied to.

Tenpyohitsu' (jakutohitsu) is regarded as the oldest existing fude in Japan. It is kept in Shosoin.

Fude for writing

Usually, while all of a big brush (thick brush) are used (dissolving and removing all glue) (in the case of the fude with short coat intentionally left on the root in order to strengthen the elasticity, glue is often left at the root of the fude), only the top of a small brush (thin brush) is good to be used. However, among the fude used for kana (the Japanese syllabary), all of the brush are often used in the case of a slightly larger menso fude.

Since the top of a small brush is especially delicate, it is better to avoid brushing it against the riku (a part of the ink slab used to grind an ink stick) in order to set the top as much as possible. The top of the brush that has been firmed by Chinese ink should not be rubbed against riku in order to make the hardened top softer. This is because an ink slab is a file used to grind an ink stick, therefore rubbing a brush top against the file is the same as grinding it on an ink slab, which can severely damage it. Since the top of a big brush can also be damaged by placing it on the riku in order to adjust the amount of Chinese ink, a 'bokuchi,' an ink slab without the file that is made of plastic or earthenware, is often used for big pieces.


The coat is wrapped in scalelike skin. The scalelike skin part is called the cuticle. The gap between human's cuticles is 0.1 micrometers and a whole human's hair will swell and roll if water enters this gap. For this reason, the brush of a newly made fude swells and rolls and it is impossible to take advantage of the performance of a brush or fude. Soot is in essence, a form of carbon. When this element is deposited between the cuticles of the fude, the brush of the fude will not swell or roll because the carbon blocks the water. In addition, it also makes the brush more elastic and better suited to load Chinese ink, making it possible to maximize the brush's performance. Fude made of sheep wool has a translucent white color at first, but changes to silver and gold through long usage, evolving from the user's handwriting habits, making it easier for a user to write with. However, it can be said that ground Chinese ink stick is better than liquid Chinese ink in reaching this state.

Irregular coats are removed in the process of production, and those which fall out during writing are those which could not be removed, and do not cause a problem if such hairs are only a small number. If many hairs are cut or fallen, the amount of hairs decrease, which leads to a split brush or a brush tip which does not work as well.

The relationship between fude and glue

As mentioned above, a fude works better the more it is used, and to this end it is important to know in how the fude is selected and washed.

The ingredients of a Chinese ink stick are mainly soot and glue (made of collagen and gelatin). Since the collagen of cheap overseas fish is used in glue for fude of inferior quality, the ingredients of the glue place stress on the hairs and hurt the cuticles. Some people try to protect the cuticles by coating the brush with rinse or conditioner, but as mentioned above, it is important for the fude hairs to have soot between cuticles. Therefore, since rinse and conditioner enter the gap and prevent soot from entering, they shorten the lifespan of the fude, and do not give it elasticity.

Washing a fude

Fude must be washed well in order to ensure that the Chinese ink does not remain at the top of the brush. However, if a new fude is put in water for a long time, the water enters the gap between the cuticles and open it wide, making the brush hairs easier to cut. For the same reason, it is improper to remove the glue used to firm the brush tip by placing it in the water for a long time.

In order to wash a small fude, it is necessary for the brush tip not to wear out.

It is necessary for the root of the fude to be washed well in order to ensure that glue does not remain within. It should be noted that if glue remains, the stem of the fude could swell, causing the brush handle to break. The brush should be washed in lukewarm water, as the glue dissolves best in it.

Some people often suck the Chinese ink out from the root of the brush, but caution must be exercised since ink of low quality may adversely affect ones health; this does not apply if ink of high quality is used. Since it is highly possible that collagen derived from the bones and skins of overseas fish and animals are used as mentioned above, or that chemical ingredients may be used as a bonding agent instead of glue with an added preservative, not to mention industrial grade fragrance, it is unsanitary and can cause health and allergy problems to place a brush in one's mouth. In addition, Chinese ink which is kept long after being ground can go bad very quickly due to the lack of preservatives; therefore, it should not be placed in one's mouth, either.

In contrast, a fude that have soot accumulated much can last long, so it is important to wash out only the glue.

Since it can be said that deposits of a light color of black Chinese ink indicates that the performance of the fude is taken advantage of, attention must be given not to wash it too much, which could damage the fude.

Production areas

The areas most famous for the production of Fude are Kumano-cho, Hiroshima Prefecture (Kumano fude), Kure City (Kawajiri fude), Nara Prefecture (Nara fude), Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture (Toyohashi fude), Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture (Sendai ofude) and Tokyo. As brushes are made by craftsmen, their workplaces combined with their home are scattered throughout each of these areas.

The fude made in the following cities are specifically certified as traditional crafts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Toyohashi fude: Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture

Nara fude: Nara City and Yamatokoriyama City, Nara Prefecture

Kumano fude: Kumano-cho, Hiroshima Prefecture

Kawajiri fude: Kawajiri-cho, Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture (former Kawajiri-cho, Toyota-gun)

In the People's Republic of China, the 'Kohitsu' (湖筆) in Zenrenchin, Wuxing Prefecture, Zhejiang Province is the most famous fude.

[Original Japanese]