In A Brush Town for A Brush Festival: Fude Matsuri

 

 

Dessert!

I left the museum at around noon. Thankfully, it was a cloudy day. I could only imagine how hot it would be if the sun was out. I walked through a small paved country road lined with houses, flora, fauna and grave yards.I first heard the music. Then I saw lots of people in a clearing at the bottom of the hill. I found out later it was the parking lot of the local school. As I got closer, the music got louder and the aroma of food got to me. It was time for lunch. The home-made ramen that I had was so good and I will not forget that delicious fresh strawberry shake ever! I enjoyed my lunch over the pleasant live music, while sharing a table with local Japanese teenage girls. I observed everyone around me. If you want to see videos, go to the highlight bar on my instagram page and click on Fude Matsuri.

 

 

 

I was welcomed by big brushes hanging from the torii of Sakakiyama Shrine. According to the Japan Times article “Sweeping Beauties of Kumano’s Brush Area” written by Steve  John Powell and Angeles Marine Cabello, “The heart of the festival is the 10th-century Sakakiyama Shrine. Like many old shrines, it lies at the top of a steep hill. It’s 99 steps to the top, up a path known as Brush Avenue, which is festooned with 10,000 brushes — some pencil-thin, others as big as brooms — hanging down around head-height.”

Anybody can touch and feel these hanging brushes.

 

 

There were tons of activities around Sakakiyama Shrine. At around 2 pm, the highlight of the festival started. I found a spot by the rope railings and enjoyed the demonstration of a calligraphy master writing poetry on a big white sheet using a very big fude. He dipped the fude on a wooden bucket filled with ink. This wooden bucket is held by a man who followed the calligraphy master as he wrote on the sheet. There was also another man who held another wooden bucket, I noticed that this was where the calligraphy master would “unload” the extra ink dripping from his fude before he would start writing again.There was also a flute master who timed his music to the brush strokes made by sensei. It was quite dramatic actually.Once the performance was through, the staff waited for the ink to dry before the white sheet was hanged for everyone to see.

 

 

 

 

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This happens every year. New calligraphy master, new poetry.

While waiting in between performances, I’ve managed to find a seat by the shade and had a most delicious snack. It was a pancake of fish design with red bean paste inside. I was debating whether I would have the skewered octopus tentacles or candied apples after. I decided to have some shaved ice with cherry syrup instead.

The next performance was by students from the local school. I was excited for their Taiko drum performance. I’ve never seen one before, so this was a treat for me.

 

 

The brushes I bought at the festival were not a lot. The primary reason I was there was not to go shopping, but to experience the festival – to immerse myself in the fude culture and to enjoy being “there”.

Frankly, buying brushes in a brush festival can make your brain go haywire. *laughs* I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of beautiful brushes  + I was not expecting to see so many brush companies in Kumano. It’s a good thing I already had an idea of the brushes that I needed. If not, I would buy anything on a whim! *laughs* I did manage to buy a few brushes on a whim.

In Kumano, people believe in the ritual burning of old brushes. Burning old brushes is a way of thanking them for their “service”. It is a way of “sending them off” ceremoniously to the afterlife. For the sake of experience, I did burn some old brushes. There is a staff member of the festival who will offer you some brushes to burn. On his table, there are a number of brushes of various sizes and shape. I think this was collected from various fude masters, gentlefolk or maybe from various companies who needed to send their brushes to heaven.

 

 

I am so glad to have made this journey. This was a great introduction. I’m sure when I return, I wouldn’t be like a kid inside a candy store.

In A Brush Town for A Brush Festival: The Brush Museum

 

The reason why I need to be in Hiroshima is because I was attending the Brush Festival. Being a makeup artist by profession, I have been planning to partake in this event for the last 5 years. And this year, was it! The festival is always held on Autumn Equinox, this year that fell on September 23rd.

 

From my hostel, I walked to Hiroshima Station and took a 30-minute train ride to Yano Station on the Kure Line bound for Hiro.

Once I got to Yano station, I had a few problems locating Yano Ekimae bus stop because my goggle maps was f-ing up. The data from my pocket wifi was not at its best given my current location. After walking a few meters and asking a Japanese man, he pointed me to the bus stop. It was right at the foot of the stairs of Yano Station. *laughs* The bus stop had a small electronic billboard. It shows you what bus stops there, what time they are expected to arrive and depart… all written in Japanese (Kanji+Hiragana+Katana). I have had 10 years of Chinese classes during grade school until high school and I am very good at the game “spot the difference”, so comparing the characters on my phone to the ones stated on the electronic billboard was a challenge I did not back down from.

Once I had an idea on which bus to take, to be sure, I asked the Japanese girl in front of me if this was the bus stop for Fude Matsuri. Lucky for me, she spoke English and told me that I was at the right place. Her name was Del and she was also bound for the festival. Del was kind enough to share with me some information about the festival. She had a map at hand and she showed me the places of interest around the Brush Museum and the festival proper.

A bus was arriving at the station and I noticed that the signboard showed the English translation of the bus route. I asked Del, if I could just follow her until we got to the festivities and she had no problem with that at all. Everybody hopped unto the bus and off we went.

The bus brought us to Kumano-eigyosho station. From there, we rode a free shuttle service to Fudenosato Kobo, the brush museum. This was where my Fude Matsuri adventure began.

 

 

 

Fudenosato Kobo is a facility that was built by the town of Kumano in 1994 and the Fudenosato Promotion Foundation runs it. According to the flyer, “The museum engages in investigative research on the history of Japanese brush-making and the collation of such materials, as well as introducing the culture intertwined with brushes against the background of Japan’s biggest collection of brushes, in both qualitative and quantitative terms.”

I have learned that Fude making in Kumano began during the late Edo period (late 1800’s) when farmers began to create brushes during the winter season to supplement their farming income. Over the years – centuries even, the town became well-known for their brushes. In 1975, The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry designated the Kumano Fude (Brush) as a traditional craft product.

 

 

 

 

 

I spent a little over an hour in the museum, wandering around, taking everything in. The permanent gallery is located at the basement, right after you come down from the stairs. There are 5 galleries around it where exhibitions are held. There is a “house” of brush masters where you can learn how to create your own calligraphy brush (For ¥3000) or observe the masters at work. There is a tea house, Shoseian, that offers tea ceremonies and classes.

There is an area where painting classes are also held. I like the “hands on” part of the museum. Interaction is always the key.The museum houses all of the brushes made in Kumano; may it be for calligraphy, crafts, makeup, painting, dyeing, etc. They also have brushes and paintings from masters of old on display at various galleries. I spent a good amount of time by the makeup brushes, mesmerised by their beauty.

I bought some brushes at the Kumanofude Select Shop Main Store, located on the first floor – to the right of the entrance door. There were many brushes available to purchase here. I had to stop myself from buying a lot because I had yet to visit the stalls at Fude Matsuri. I felt that I would have more choices there and as Del told me earlier, many brush companies offer their brushes at a discounted rate, between 30-50 percent. With that in mind, I’m off to the festival