Hair Brush

Mayuki’s hair brush was finally delivered a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t a brush for Mayuki’s hair. It’s a brush made from Mayuki’s hair.

A red lacquer writing brush box, with a wild boar design and writing in gold

The box for the brush

These brushes are a Japanese custom. Apparently, many years ago, the best writing brushes were made from the first hair cut from babies. This was because the hair was of the right fineness, and, because it had never been cut before, all the ends had a natural taper, rather than being cut off sharply. At some point, certainly long before our time, this stopped being a practical issue, and a writing brush made with your child’s hair became a standard commemorative item with which to celebrate a birth. Ours was paid for by us and Mayuki’s non-Japanese grandparents, who may just about remember agreeing to that. Obviously, it took us quite a long time, but there are good reasons for that.

The box, however, is not one of the good reasons. The Japanese writing says “Birth Commemoration Writing Brush”, and the image of a boar is because Mayuki was born in the year of the boar. It didn’t take long to decide on those details. It did, however, take a little while to decide on the overall design of the brush, because they had a lot of options. The most expensive were entirely gilded, but those looked too gaudy, so we went for this option instead. It had quite a few options inside the box, and they did take some time.

The open box. The brush, also red lacquered, is visible, as is the inside of the lid

The brush and the lid of the box

The first problem is getting the hair for the brush. As you can see, you need quite a lot of hair to make the brush, and it takes a while for a baby to grow enough hair for you to cut that much off without leaving a bald baby. (Many years ago, babies were shaved bald in Japan, which probably meant that you could make the brush a bit sooner. Not any more, however.)

Then there are the things on the inside. First, the design above the brush is our family mon, or mark. This is a Japanese tradition, a bit like coats of arms, except that it was never official or regulated. Any family could have a mon, if they wanted it, and could choose anything they liked, as long as it hadn’t already been taken, and didn’t look too much like a very famous and important mon. Most Japanese families have one, although there is a default one, two crossed feathers, that is used in the absence of anything else.

Obviously, the Chart family does not have a traditional mon, and the dictionaries of “mon by family name” that you can buy in most shops don’t include “Chart” as one of the options. That meant that I had to design our mon from scratch. It is made up of three “musubi-fumi”, arranged so that they form a hexagon. A musubi-fumi is a folded and tied piece of paper, as used for writing notes and poems in classical Japan. “Musubi”, which means “tied”, is also used for relationships between people. Finally, three musubi-fumi could, in Japanese, be described as “mimusubi”, which, with different characters, is also the term for the power of life and growth. A nice bonus is that I think the design looks very nice, and the musubi-fumi was not, apparently, used in many traditional family mon (although the element appears in the dictionaries; that’s where I found it), so ours should be distinctive. Incidentally, most Japanese mon are in the public domain, because they’re old. I designed this one a couple of years ago, so it isn’t. So that took a bit of time.

Then there’s the writing inside the box. Most of this is fairly standard: Mayuki’s name, our names, and her birth date. That didn’t take much thought. However, there are two other things. First, there are eight characters, a short message, on the shaft of the brush. The catalogue provides a number of possibilities for people who don’t want to come up with their own, but I did, of course, want to come up with my own. It says “芯の愛が包まれる”, which means “The heartwood’s love is enfolded”. 芯 is the character used for the heart of a tree, or a brush, and includes the character for “heart”, as in emotions.

Inside the lid, you get twenty characters, and again there are options. This one really took time, because I wanted to write a tanka for it. A tanka is a traditional Japanese poem, often described as thirty-one characters. However, if you write it with kanji, you can get the number of characters down a bit, because many kanji stand for more than one syllable in some words, and it is the syllables that you actually count. It’s not easy to get it down to twenty, but I managed it. The final tanka is “筆先が命の道を画いたら真心以て自由と歓喜”, which is read “Fudesaki ga inochi no michi o egaitara, Magokoro mochite jiyuu to kanki”, and translates as “As the brush traces the path of your life, From devotion, freedom and joy”. The tanka starts with the character for “writing brush”, and the second part (the shimonoku, as it is traditionally called) includes all three kanji from Mayuki’s name, in order. (It starts with the first, finishes with the last, and the middle one is… a bit after the middle. There are limits.)

Writing those also took quite a bit of time.

The last bit that took time, and delayed this blog entry, was getting the photograph of Mayuki into it. You do that yourself, and it wasn’t hard, but I only got around to it today.

So, this is our new family treasure. We showed it to Mayuki, of course, and she wanted us to take it out of the box so that she could paint with it. No, Mayuki. It is your brush, true, but you’ll understand when you’re older.

Posted in Japan, Our Child.

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