Edo Brushes first appeared in 1732 in the Bankin Sugiwai Bukuro product directory. The catalog displayed an array of shapes and sizes as one would expect, and, while the company marketed them as Edo Brushes, they had a variety of uses: brushes for lacquerware, scroll mounting, woodblock staining, and special brushes for doll makers, as well as brushes for Japanese white powder makeup foundation. Currently, Edo Brushes include seven types of brushes made from animal and human hair as well as fibers from palm trees such as tsugu and shuro.
Each brush’s purpose determines the materials the artisans will use in the brush, one example is horsehair used for scroll mounting brushes. A brush’s life comes down to the tips of the hairs, and the best ones are firm leaving an even coat. Hair from animals or humans has a high oil content, but a technique called kenomi, or hair rubbing, removes the oil and straightens the hair using irons and rice husk ash. Only brushes finished to near perfection fit into the category of Edo Brushes. The tools to make these first-rate brushes must also be first-rate. The process includes the pairing of the best tools with the craftsmen who wield them to create traditional brushes.