Once calligraphy became a standard subject in schools, the demand for brushes turned Kumano into a manufacturing hub. Prized for their quality and handcraft, the brushes are created by a select group of artisans. Many of Kumano’s fude-shi, or brush makers at companies like Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo, can trace their family’s roots in the trade back several generations, and the profession is at the heart of the city’s success. Of an estimated 27,000 citizens, more than 1,500 make their living in the brush business, and their connection to the craftsmanship is evident during the festival. One important element of the gathering is a ritual for old tools: The beloved items are given a final thanks for all they’ve done for their owners before they’re placed on a pyre.