The Japanese brush is a complex piece that, given the love and attention that goes into its decoration, should be considered a work of art in itself. The different types of animal hairs used in brush making give very different results. Some hairs absorb more ink, some release more, and it is up to the calligrapher to decide which is appropriate for a specific job. Unlike using a pen the calligraphers brush allows more control of the thickness and tone of the characters.
Skilled craftsmen make the brushes, which is quite contrary to their simple looking structure. A brush can even be made out of bamboo, tip pounded into a fibrous brush and used for terse, quick effects. The original hairs used in brushes came from such animals as wolf, squirrel, weasel and badger. Today the brushes are more commonly made from sheep, dog, cat, rabbit, deer, goat and horse. For special brushes feathers, straw and dried grasses are also used. The main exporters of brush materials are Canada, China and South East Asia.
Brushes of a similar nature to calligraphy brushes are also used in Sumi ink painting (though a much greater variety of brushes are used for this art form. Another variation of the calligraphy brush can be found in use in gold lacquer decoration (Maki-e). These particular brushes are very fine, long, and thin, which is necessary for their delicate work. Reportedly the best hair for this type of brush comes from the plush flank hair of ship rats, or, secondly, cats.
Click here to learn the process of making Japanese calligraphy.