There are two words for ‘brush’ in Japanese: hake and burashi.
Hake (pronounced 'ha-kay') have long been used as cleaning implements in Japan, for Buddhist altars, scripture restoration and stencil dyeing. Edo brushes – Edo hake – take their name from the city in which they were made; Edo (present-day Tokyo). The term ‘Edo brushes’ appears in the six-volume Bankin-sugiwai bukuro, a catalogue of everyday products published in 1732. As demand grew for dyed textiles in the rapidly expanding city, brush makers from Kyoto, specializing in brushes used in the dyeing process, began settling in Edo.
Burashi – from the English word ‘brush’ – were introduced in the 19th century at a time of rapid industrialisation and the introduction of technology from abroad. Responding to the changing times, makers of hake began to manufacture burashi and workshops were established specifically for their production, particularly in Osaka and Tokyo.
In the Osaka and Wakayama region, mass-production machinery was widely introduced, whereas the manufacture of hand-made, more durable brushes developed in Tokyo. Inserted by hand into a wooden base, the bristles are then pulled through holes and secured by a metal wire inside. Machine-made brushes do not have the bristles secured firmly in this way. By the early 20th century there were around 80 burashi workshops in the areas of Honjo and Mukōjima, in the Sumida district of Tokyo.
There are seven brush-making craft traditions officially recognized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government: brushes for pasting washi (Japanese paper), for stencil-dyeing textiles, for applying urushi (lacquer), for woodblock printing, for applying the white coating to the heads of dolls, for applying the white make-up used by kabuki actors and geiko, and broad brushes for painting. They are all individually handmade by craftspeople in the city.
You can purchase hake brushes on the Japan House London Online Shop.