During the late 18th century (end of Edo period), people in Kumano was making their living mainly on agriculture. However, some villagers began purchasing Fude and sumi ink form Osaka, Arima (Hyogo prefecture) and Nara region, and reselling them around the country. Later in 1835 (Tenpyou 5), a young man named Tameji Sasaki was sent to Arima of Settsu province (present Hyogo prefecture) by a man called Choubei Sumiya who was dealing Fude and sumi ink, and there he studied Fude making skills for 4 years and came back to Kumano in 1839 (Tenpou 9). Another young man called Jihei Inoue learned Fude making process by a “Fudeshi” who was serving Asano clan. The Fudeshi was invited to teach Fude making in Kumano by a man named Saibe-e Magoida. Around the same time, a young man whose name was Tsuneta Otomaru came back to Kumano after having learned Fude making in Arima. These men returned to the village with the knowledge of Fude making, and taught villagers the necessary skills for making Fude. Their enthusiasms as well as the efforts of the villagers encouraged Fude making to flourish in Kumano.
One of the reasons is the increased demand for Fude, which started when calligraphy classes became the part of educational curriculum in Japanese schools. When school system was established in 1872 (Meiji 5), Fude making industry in Kumano grew rapidly. The four years of education became mandatory in 1900 (Meiji 33) and as more children started to go to school, the production of Fude increased.
Another reason is that many Fude producing towns stopped making Fude. In the Fude producing centers, especially in the cities, new types of industry developed, and the production of Fude has declined gradually. Kumano is a town located in a basin surrounded by mountains, and even though the town is located not so far from the cities, the new industry was not yet introduced in the town of Kumano at that time, and Fude making in Kumano was still continued as before. At present, the 80% of Fude manufactured in Japan is made in Kumano.
In1945 (Showa 20), after the World War II, calligraphy classes were banned from Japanese schools and the production of Kumano Fude dropped dramatically. It was around this time when people of Kumano started producing Fude of painting and Fude of makeup by applying their skills in Fude in order to earn their living. Then, in 1958 (Showa 33), calligraphy classes were opened again, and the production of Fude has regained its positive growth.
They are the crafts designated by Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (minister of economy) as “traditional crafts”, and they need to satisfy the following requirements:
1. The craft has to be a part of people’s everyday lives.
2. Most of its manufacturing process has to be done by hands
3. Traditional skills or techniques are required in the manufacturing process.
4. The materials used have to be the same materials that have been traditionally used
5. There has to be a certain producing area for the craft.
Kumano Fude were designated as “traditional crafts” by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on May 10th in 1975 (Showa 50). (only Fude)
A “traditional craftsman” is a person with an advanced skills and a long experience in creating the craft which is officially designated as “traditional craft” by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The traditional craftsman of Kumano Fude have to have at least 12 years of experience in Fude making, and their contribution to the development of local Fude producing area of Kumano has to be recognized. In addition, there are written tests and skill tests (their actual Fude making technique is tested), and his/her Fude made in the last one month has to be presented for review.
It goes without saying that the traditional craftsmen of Kumano are expected to work hard to improve their own skills, but they also have a responsibility to help the development of Kumano by teaching others and educating and training successors. There are now about 1,500 Fudeshi in Kumano and 22 of them are officially designated as traditional craftsmen.
The most difficult part of Fude making is the process of “1. Making Fude head: Selecting and mixing the hair” described in the pamphlet. The process of mixing the hair of different qualities and characteristics is a challenging work for any Fude makers. Through continuous trial and error, Fudeshi are trying to make good quality Fude that can satisfy and please everyone who uses our Fude as well as stores and companies who order our Fude.
A Fude can be divided into two parts; Fude head and Fude handle.
The Fude head is commonly made of animal hair of horses, deers, goats, raccoons, weasels and cats. For Fude of makeup, the hair of squirrels is also used, and for Fude of painting, the hair of pigs or nylon can be used as well. However, Kumano does not produce any of these materials. Some hair of horses and raccoons are available in Japan, but most of them are imported from China and North America (Canada). The Kumano Fude industry association and local companies of Kumano purchase those materials through Japanese companies that import animal hair. The materials used for Fude handles are mainly bamboo and wood. These materials also, are not produced in Kumano. Most of them are brought in to Kumano from Okayama, Shimane or Hyogo prefecture, or imported from foreign countries such as China, Taiwan and South Korea.
The commonly used hair is the hair of horses, raccoons, weasels, deers and goats. There are Fude made with the hair of infants called “Taimou-fude”, and plant fibers of straw and bamboo can be also used, as well as bird feathers of peacocks and water birds.
In the town of Kumano, about 15 million Fude are made a year. That means 50, 000 Fude are made in one day, and it is calculated that one craftsman makes about 1,000 to 2,000 Fude a month. Which means that almost 50-100 Fude are made a day by one craft man. However, the Fude making process is not done “by one person from the start to finish”. After the necessary materials are purchased, the each process of “making Fude head”, “putting the Fude head”, “finishing” and “engraving” are all done by different craftsman. Therefore, it is not possible to exactly calculate how long it takes to make one Fude.
The whole Fude making process can be divided into about 70 or more processes depending on the size and kind of Fude, and most of the processes are done by hand. The qualities of the hair used vary for each animal, and as human hair can be hard, soft, or wavy, even the same kind of animals have different kind of hair depending on their age and their habitat. To distinguish the quality of each hair and making it into a Fude head is a process that cannot be done with machines. It requires the sharp intuition of Fudeshi with a long experience and sophisticated skills. Before, there was an attempt to device a way to mechanize the process of removing oil from animal hair; however, they came to a conclusion that it cannot be done by machines. However, a part of Fude-handle making process is mechanized, and the machine can be used to cut the handle of a Fude, but it is only when the material for the handle is wood.
In Kumano, we make Fude for calligraphy, painting and cosmetics, and it takes a long time to be an accomplished craftsman for any of these categories. There are a number of processes in Fude making, and each craftsman is specialized in one of these processes; there are ones who make Fude heads, the ones who specialize in making Fude handles, the ones who insert the Fude heads into the Fude handles, and the ones who are skilled at engraving names on the Fude. Just to be able to make a Fude head all on his/her own takes at least ten years of experience.
The Kumano Fude are shipped to Fude wholesale dealers, stationary retailers and wholesalers, Japanese calligraphy tool stores, department stores and calligraphy schools all over the country by Kumano’s local Fude manufactures and distributors. The largest amount is shipped to big cities such as Tokyo.
For Fude used by elementary school students, most of them cost \1,000-3,000 for large Fude and \500-200 for small Fude.
The fude Fude used by calligraphers and artists cost \10,000-200,000, and some of them are priced at more than \500,000. The price of Fude is decided by the cost of materials and the level of the skill of Fudeshi who made them.
It really depends on the person who uses the Fude and there are no strict rules. You can hold wherever you feel comfortable. In general, it might not be a good idea to hold it too close to the Fude head, since the movement of the Fude will be restricted.
One of the problems the town of Kumano is facing is that, as same with other traditional crafts, the number of people who are to continue with the tradition is declining. It is essential to educate and raise young successors. One of the reasons why we don’t have many successors is that many people started to work outside the town of Kumano when the easy access to the cities of Hiroshima and Kure became available.
Also, it requires a great amount of patience in making Fude, and not many people are willing to engage in this kind of work. In order to solve this problem, the town of Kumano and Kumano’s Fude industry association are making various efforts such as having a seminar on Fude making and providing materials for companies which are eager to train and educate more successors. Thanks to these efforts, lately a number of people who wish to “live a slow life and be spiritually fulfilled” are growing gradually, and the warmth of hand made traditional crafts and their high standard of quality are beginning to be re-evaluated.
Another problem is a growing competition with China. In China, raw materials for Fude are available in abundance and they are able to make Fude with much less cost. They became our major competitor since they can manufacture Fude much cheaper than we do. In order to not lose the competition to Chinese Fude, we are making our best efforts to produce better quality Fude in cooperation with the Fude industry association of Kumano.