Late at night I draw my ink stone close;
Flushed with wine, I put my worn brush to paper.
I want my brushwork to bear the same fragrance as plum blossoms,
And even though old I will try harder than anyone.


Saiun-do has been selling all the supplies necessary for Japanese painting. With over a hundred different kinds of brushes, you will also find inks, paints, water containers, brush holders and handmade papers.

For well over one hundred years, Saiun-do has been supplying artists with quality Nihonga pigments and brushes. The business has an illustrious history. The famous painter Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924), just one of Saiundo’s illustrious clients, recommended the auspicious name Saiun-do (Spectrum Cloud Hall) in 1890. The kanban [shop sign] that hangs in the office was painted by Tessai himself.

At first glance, Saiun-do appears to be a traditional Chinese medicine (kampo) shop, with shelves lined with jars and vials and cases of exotic-looking colored powders. These prized ingredients and how they are mixed can transform white or wooden boards into prized art treasures, and for that reason the color recipes are often closely-guarded secret formulas.

Since the beginning, Saiundo has been a favorite destination for many of Japan’s major Nihonga and Sumie (ink paintings) artists. The owners know pretty much everything there is know and they have every single ingredient and accessory that traditional Japanese art requires. Not surprisingly, many artists from abroad also stop in to pick up brushes and pigments. However, if you don’t speak Japanese, you should bring an interpreter to help you out. This is not a shop that you can easily stroll around in and browse: most things are hidden in intricate drawers. Fortunately, most serious artists know exactly what they are looking for.

Nihonga (literally “Japan picture”) is the name given to a style of painting in which combinations of materials, mainly mineral and vegetable matter, are ground into colors and applied to a surface. Contemporary Nihonga, which can be seen in Kyoto’s many art galleries, tends to focus on animals, landscapes, and botanical subjects, but in past eras noblemen and women, and Buddhas were popular subjects. The oldest Japanese paintings of any sophistication — frescoes on the walls of the 7th century Takamatsu-zuka tomb in Nara — fall within the scope of Nihonga, as do centuries of scrolls, painted fans, sliding and standing screens, and works on paper, plaster, and bare wood. However, this most quintessential of Japanese arts is generally under-appreciated by foreigners. Art students swarm to Florence in their thousands to learn how to recreate and appreciate medieval Italian paintings and frescoes; it is odd that more attention isn’t given to this Japanese version of the fresco, for that is what Nihonga should properly be compared to.

Trade with China during the Edo period brought precious stones from the mainland — stones the Chinese had been using since time immemorial for paints, but which were unknown in Japan. And with the opening to the West in the Meiji period came the science of chemistry, which opened up great horizons for art. The great painter and printmaker, Hokusai, was at the forefront of the wave of painters using chemical paints. Before his time, indigo was about the richest color available, so you can imagine the impact of his vivid splashes of red and gold and green. The Western influence also brought new names, such as ultramarine and eroka, which was the way the Japanese heard “yellow-ochre”.

Some paints are made from stone or soil, and others are made from vegetables and plants, as well as animal matter, such as ground insects. Some are even made from pearls. White, which used to always be made from fine Chinese soil, is more often made from ground marble now. The best whites are made from sea shells.

Traditionally, the most luxurious of the colors included gold and the green rokusho, made of malachite, and blue “peacock color” (azurite) imported from Brazil. These colors are further enhanced by exposure to sun and rain — they take on a patina from nature and ‘grow’ into each other, and into the picture.

Although Nihonga has a long tradition, many artists are very open to change and new ideas, and that goes for art suppliers as well. Suppliers like Saiun-do have great respect for the techniques and superlative materials of the past, but also look for new materials.

Just as important as the pigments are the brushes artists use, and Saiun-do stocks nothing but the very best.

An old Japanese saying states “Kobo fude o erabazu“, meaning that Kobo Daishi, the eighth century priest known for the excellence of his calligraphy, wasn’t particular about what brush he used. This must undoubtedly have saved the great calligrapher a lot of time and trouble, as the baffling variety of brushes, or fude, available here makes selection rather difficult.

Today, less than twenty craftspeople living and working in or around Kyoto make brushes full-time. Hair from such exotic animals as Japanese and Chinese raccoons, Japanese and Chinese weasels, Chinese sheep, horses, and Vietnamese deer are used. Among the more exotic materials used for brushes are hairs from cats, monkeys, ermine, and lions. The tips of rice plants are sometimes also used to make disposable calligraphy brushes.

To see more and learn more, have a look in the window at Saiun-do. You will find the owners to be very friendly and very helpful with all your needs (especially if you are an artist). Located on the south side of Ane-koji, east of Fuyacho, one and half blocks west of Teramachi

Tel: 075-221-2464
Open: 9:00-18:00
Closed: Wednesdays


Its flagship shop opened in Kyoto in October 2014. The store is located in the heart of Kyoto, in Teramachi-dori, Nijo, which is well-known as a tranquil and peaceful area.

During the Heian period, it was the site of the Kyougoku Residence of the poet Fujiwara no Teika and currently contains many shops that hold a connection to that era, such as bunboushihou (the four important tools of calligraphy: brush, ink stone, ink stick and paper), antiques and antiquities, and premium Japanese teashops that stand side-by-side in a row.

The scale and design is well rooted Kyoto-style machiya (townsman house) architecture, but utilizes modern materials such as glass and poured in place concrete.  

The museum-like display of special brushes is treated with the utmost respect, replacing the typical retail display with an almost contemplative experience. This is further enhanced by the generous amount of space for one to move around within the stillness.

Naito Shoten


They have manufactured palm brooms since 1818 on the west end of the Sanjo Bridge.  Palm is an evergreen tree whose skin is used for brooms that becomes softer and softer with use yet is very durable.  The skin of a palm tree consists of strong fibers so it is also good and convenient for dish washing.  Actually, one of the most popular items at Naito Shoten is their “Shuro Kiriwara” which is used for cleaning dishes and vegetables.  Their mini-broom is also nice to keep beside your table for daily cleaning.  They have a variety of palm items in different sizes depending on the purpose of use.

Because Kyoto was spared the bombings of World War II that devastated Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and other Japanese cities, streets of dark old houses remain intact, pretty much as they were in the 19th century. House-proud Kyoto-ites take care of their seemingly fragile wood, paper and plaster houses and the furnishings within the same way their ancestors have for hundreds of years, often using the same types of equipment, some of it still made by hand within the city. But young people have little desire to apply themselves to the modest and demanding work of making these things, and in many cases the present generation of craftsmen may be the last.

If you cross the Sanjo Bridge over the Kamo River on the north side of the street, you can’t help swerving toward Naito Rikimatsu Shoten. The display of cleaning utensils and brushes fills the broad storefront just west of the bridge, on what must be one of the most valuable properties in Kyoto. Brooms and brushes hang so thickly in the wide doorway that you have to duck under them to enter. The window is stocked with artists’ and textile-dyers’ brushes made of the hair of goats, deer and horses; hand-tied shuro or hemp palm brooms for sweeping tatami matting, paper shoji screens and other delicate surfaces; tightly bound cylinders of hemp palm for scouring and scrubbing. The cool, dark interior of the store looks much as it must have when it was founded in 1818. Until the mid-1970’s, all of the rich brown shuro brushes and brooms were made right here. Since old Mr. Naito, who made them, died many years ago, each type of brush is now made by an artisan who specializes in a particular material (shuro, rice straw, or the like). There used to be more shops like this in Kyoto, but now there are only two or three. The craftsmen who make these wares are mostly in their 60’s, and there are no younger ones to succeed them when they are gone, says Mr. Naito’s daughter, who is gradually taking over the business from her mother.

The variety of material, form and construction at Naito recalls an age when the tools of housekeeping and even of craft work were more specialized than they are today. The housekeepers and craftsmen who still use them seem to belong to an earlier time, when most Japanese lived in traditional homes, ate Japanese food served in Japanese-style utensils, wore kimonos and did not ride subways or bullet trains. One of the standard pieces of equipment still in every Japanese kitchen is a tawashi, a horseshoe-shaped brush of shuro that just fits the hand. A tawashi is for scrubbing vegetables as well as pots and pans.

Another inexpensive item, a perfect gift for a friend who appreciates good design, is a toilet brush. Naito sells two types: One, with a horseshoe-shaped brush and elegant speckled bamboo handle, is much like the familiar ones of nylon and plastic. The other, made of a fiber taken from ferns, similar in appearance to shuro but stiffer, is shaped like the slender Japanese pipe, called a kiseru, that holds only a thimbleful of tobacco. The dark bristles are bound with shiny copper wire onto a naturally mottled bamboo handle. 

Another basic type of shuro brush, called kiriwara, comes in many variations. A bundle of stiff bristles, shaved off straight at each end and tightly bound with copper wire, it is ideal for cleaning hard-to-reach surfaces and crevices. A medium-size kiriwara cleans the unglazed foot of a tea bowl and also makes a fine tool for brushing away the accumulated ink on dirty typewriter keys. The smallest size, about a quarter-inch in diameter, is traditionally used for cleaning carved stone or horn signature seals and is also just right for jewelry. The largest kiriwara is more effective in scouring coffee and tea pots (ceramic, glass or metal) than nylon-bristled bottle brushes, which always seem to have bristles everywhere but where you need them – right on the end. Shuro whisk brooms are soft enough to use on tatami matting and unfinished wood surfaces without scratching them, and they have enough body to sweep out the grit that accumulates around the aluminum window frames common to most newer Japanese houses and apartments. Stiffer brooms of kibi (a kind of millet) stalks make fine clothes brushes; larger ones are used for sweeping up workshop areas.

Many of Naito’s brushes are used by specialized craftsmen in their work. The natural fiber bristles are not abrasive like nylon, the sharply cut ends of which mar even ceramic surfaces. Roof tilers, when they’ve finished the job, sweep off the newly set tiles with soft brooms made of rice straw. Doll makers use stiff a kiriwara to polish the faces of their dolls, which are made of a paste of crushed oyster shells. A hard packed rigid cylindrical bundle of fibers – the root of a kind of pampas grass -tightly bound with twine, is employed by cabinetmakers to raise the grain on soft paulownia wood, used for fine tansu chests. Black pig-bristle bottle brushes don’t scratch the glass and are said to clean better than synthetic bristles.

The Japanese passion for bathing manifests itself here, too, in the form of body brushes to stimulate your circulation before a bath or to be used with soap and water. Two loops of white cotton cord allow you to flip the brush over your shoulder to scrub your back. The white bristles are softer than the dark brown shuro and better used dry. Wood-backed brushes with stiff, white vegetable-fiber or black horsehair bristles serve as hand brushes (the horsehair brushes are said to be favored by doctors), body brushes or laundry brushes.

Brush Maker:

Master Kyoto Brush Maker: