KUMANO, HIROSHIMA PREFECTURE, Japan -- Residents of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, ventured to Kumano Town in Hiroshima Prefecture, for the annual Japanese Calligraphy Brush Festival, Sept. 23, 2015.
The cultural adaption program aboard station coordinated this event to provide service members and their families a chance to travel beyond the installations gates and experience the Japanese culture.
Guests explored the streets of lined vendors selling hand-made brushes, also known in Japanese as “fude.” Materials used to make fude include; animal hair of goats, horses, weasels, deers and raccoons mostly imported from China and North America. Some station residents even competed against Japanese locals in a calligraphy contest to see who could master the artistic writing of “shodo.”
“I enjoyed my wife and I being a part of the [calligraphy] contest … it was a cool event,” said Gunnery Sgt. Victor Mancini, maintenance control staff non-commissioned officer in charge with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152. “I think the Japanese really enjoy having us here. They kept coming up to talk to us … and our participation in these events show them that we care about their culture, and we’re not just here because we have to be, but because we care.”
The history of Kumano-fude making dates back to the late 18th century at the end of the Edo period. Villagers struggled to make a living simply from agriculture, so they began purchasing fude and sumi ink from the Nara region to resell during the agricultural off-season.
This established the close relationship between Kumano townspeople and fude. Today, approximately 1,500 “fude-shi,” brush-making craftsman, work to maintain the 80 percent domestic production rate of fude, as stated by, Fudenosato Kobo, the official Kumano-fude facility and museum.
“Seeing the process of fude making is a very rare opportunity,” said Mikie Watanabe, cultural adaption specialist with the cultural adaption program. “Some specialists have 40 to 50 years of experience making fude and are qualified as a master fude-shi from the Japanese government.”
After wandering the fude themed streets and shrines, guests toured the Fudenosato Kobo; home to the largest brush in the world, fude hieroglyphs, calligraphy monuments, several art studios, galleries and museum shops.
“It was really fun to see all the brushes, learn the history, and get some cool souvenirs,” said Pheonix Wilkins, a library technician at the Marine Corps Community Services Iwakuni Library. “These events really help me become more comfortable with the culture, since I’m foreign and far away from home.”
Previously, the cultural adaption program held a Japanese calligraphy class aboard station where participants learned shodo, kanji, and katakana of the Japanese writing system.
“Calligraphy is not only a focused writing technique, but it makes you concentrate on your soul and it helps express your mind through the handwriting. It is like meditation,” said Watanabe. “The traditions are passed from generation to generation. Japanese people grow up with calligraphy … and the craftsmen keep the spirit of the traditional way.”
These cultural classes and trips help service members and their families adapt to the foreign lifestyle by practicing traditional crafts, discovering Japanese history and engaging foreigners.
“Being here lets you see how the Japanese live, their culture, and their history,” said Mancini. “There’s so much to do, I highly suggest participating in these trips and if Marines aren’t going out, they’re wasting their time.”
For more information on upcoming cultural events, call 253-6165.
For more information about Kumano-fude, visit http://fude.or.jp/en/.