I feel like a shitty human being for reviewing an item that is no longer available and has been unobtainable since it sold out within a week of its release. I am of course talking about the Saibikoho w/ Yakusugi Handle Blush Brush that was released by Koyudo and sold on CDJapan in January of 2016.
So why am I bothering with this post anyways?
- To show off To provide information in case you are lucky enough to run across someone selling theirs later on and you are contemplating dropping your hard earned money on it.
- To provide suggestions for possible replacement / substitutions / dupes.
What makes this blush brush so special is a combination of the hair and handle materials. Saibikoho hair is the cream of the saikoho hair crop. Saikoho is already soft and fine (premium brushes are made out of this stuff). However, the softest and finest Saikoho hairs are sorted out and categorized as Saibikoho. If that doesn’t make any sense, think about how there are differences in hair quality between humans thanks to genetics. Same applies to goats. Genetic differences result in some goats, just like people, that provide better quality hair (diameter, silkiness/coarseness) than other goats. So take the hair from the goats that provide the best saikoho, and select finest hairs from that pool. The resulting selection of batches are saibikoho. That is the softest goat hair you can get your hands on.
The handle is made of yakusugi wood, or 1000+ year old Japanese cedar. Wait isn’t that going to be protected?! Yes, the live trees are. The felled ones are fair game to be collected and used in items. (i’ll let wiki explain here). TLDR on why it’s special: it has history and smells divine. I’m a sucker for long history.
For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to shorten the name to Saibisugi. I don’t have the patience to type out Saibikoho Yakusugi every time. I’m a lazy person. (in case that fact was not already evident from my very erratica post “schedule” and giant time gaps.)
Oh yeah, and the saibisugi is dirty with blush (MAC’s Frankly Scarlet) in most pictures because if i were to wait to catch it clean and dry for photos, this review would never happen.
The Brush + Details
What else do I say besides it’s gorgeous? I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and try not to interrupt to much along the way. Just kidding. It’s not a review of mine unless it’s long winded.
The Saibisugi, like most of Koyudo’s premium LE brushes, comes in a presentation box made of Palouwina wood. More on the box at the end of the post because lets face it, the brush is what you’re here for. The brush arrived sheathed in a protective plastic sleeve, and cradled on a bed of shredded paper that strongly reminds me of the shredded daikon beds that sashimi is presented on. (Am i the only one that enjoys eating that? The shredded daikon, not paper…) The box and paper shreds eventually become imbued with the Yakusugi scent despite the handle not being overpowering in smell at all.
The handle is *just* a polished stick of wood with “Koyudo collection” printed on in a way that’s slightly raised above the surface of the handle. There is no lacquer so I’m pretty sure that Koyudo logo is going to get rubbed off sooner or later. The lack of lacquer also allows the smell to propagate on the surfaces the wood touches (like the box, paper or hands) and waft through the air in its immediate vicinity. To me, the handle has a sweet, delicate, peppery smell like a combination of white pepper and cardamon with a slight citrus-like tang like violin polish on top of the typical American cedar smell you find on planks in Home Depot.. I love it so but it’s not for everybody. You have to like spicy, woody, unisex-to-slightly masculine smells. It strongly resembles the dry finish of B. by Balenciaga Eau de Parfum after I’ve been wearing it for a while and the lily-of-the-valley notes have died down but still present. The glutton in me wants to smoke some meat over a blazing pile of this wood. I imagine it would taste delicious…. but i don’t want to even think about how astronomically expensive that would be. x_x
Anyways, the wood is rather lightweight so the overall brush doesn’t feel balanced. It’s slightly top/head heavy so its more comfortable to hold it closer to the handle-ferrule joint. The balance point is about 1 cm from the joint. The area where the two meet is seamless though, and consistent with the sleek transitions in other Japanese brushes.
The hairs are super fine. So fine in fact that i had to take pictures in a more dimly lit area to get better contrast so that the individual strands would show. The hairs are much more similar to squirrel than to goat. The brush head feels as silky and soft as Canadian squirrel – which i find to be smoother and softer than both red and gray squirrel – but isn’t as firm. The hair’s ability so snap back into shape is somewhere in between Red squirrel and Canadian squirrel. The saibikoho hairs definitely feel different from gray squirrel. Grey squirrel hairs (to me) feel more textured and pick up more powder. The Saibikoho hairs are so smooth that they almost slip by pigment in the pan, rather than grabbing it. The urge to take an electron scanning microscope to my brushes to check out hair structure is strong.
The Saibisugi is not winning any awards for density, plushness or luxuriousness. Yes it’s really nice and soft, but it doesnt feel rich in the same exuberant-luxury sense that i get with some of my other soft + plush brushes. On a density scale of 1 (wispy fan brush) – 10 (sponge like Kabuki brush and pain in the ass to wash), this thing gets a 3.8 (because 3.5 seems too low but i wouldn’t give it a solid 4). It makes the Gen 2 Koyudo Red squirrel blush brush seem dense (and there was lots of bellyaching about THAT being inferior in density and flimsy compared to the Gen 1). The Saibisugi’s head has quite a lot of give and yields to skin at the slightest pressure. Some people will be disappointed by the “floppiness” or lack of resistance, especially for 25,000 yen ($204-213 USD depending on the exchange rate). This brush is not for strong, bold, editorial makeup. It is for effortless, subtle-to-the-point-of-wondering-“is-it-even-there?!’ natural makeup.
The Saibisugi’s head is a flattish paddle shape with a rounded crown. As seen from the profile (later in the comparison part of the post) the hairs taper to a pointed dome shape. It’s slightly pinched at the ferrule and has an skinny oval footprint. Aside from applying blush (duh), the Saibisugi is suitable for targeting areas with sheer layers of powder, as well as highlighting (using the tapered tip). The tip is small enough for contouring, but i prefer stronger blenders for sculpting job. It is good for shading though.
The saibisugi works best with thinner, blendable powders because the buffing and blending power of the Saibisugi is severely limited by the softness and lack of density. My preferred way to use it is sweeping and patting to layer pigmented products. Just touch the brush to the pan and stroke the target area until the desired intensity is achieved. Never go overboard with your Tom Ford or Illamasqua powder blushes ever again. Not fancy enough for TF or Illamasqua? The Sabisugi is excellent for the Sleek blush by threes (powder ones only, it doesn’t have the strength to deal with creams). The Pumpkin Trio comes to mind. I struggle to avoid clown cheeks with that one even when using my grey and red squirrel cheek brushes. The squirrel brushes have a bigger surface area + more hair texture than the Saibisugi (as you’ll see later in the post) and pick up more (read: too much) color.
Because the Saibisugi is so soft and flexible, it is most suitable for soft press products. Those Kat von D Shade and Light blushes, super hard pressed compacts or anything else you have to scrape at with a regular goat brush? Forget it. Don’t even try. Hourglass AL Powders/Blushes/Bronzers or similarly textured products? Go for it. The Sabisugi wont generate any excess powder!
Comparisons + Possible Alternatives
Here’s the part that’s going to be useful for most people.
Initially i thought the Koyudo BP016 (review of that here) was going to be the closest cousin to the Saibisugi. I was correct for the most part. From face on they look the same (aside from the difference in hair diameter/fine-ness). They are the same from the ferrule and look identical from face on but they look quite different when viewed from profile. The BP016 puffs out more and looks like it has less tapered of a point. When it comes to actual application performance though, they apply product to the same surface area.
The BP016 is less flexible, feels twice as dense and is much more springy. However the Saibisugi’s hairs make the saikoho in the BP016 feel like trash (if I’m not mincing words). It’s not that the BP016 feels terrible, it’s just no longer impressive in comparison. The BP016 was one of my softest goat brushes up until the Saibisugi arrived. Being made of saikoho, it IS soft and silky by itself, but when i compare it to saibikoho, saikoho feels coarse and stiff in comparison. Of course, the BP016 applies color more strongly and is better at blending. The only way for me to fix this situation is to grab one of my cheaper brushes and use it to reset my expectations back down low. I keep telling myself that’s why i still keep them (cheap brushes) around, to lower my expectations to a reasonable level… but ofc, the real reason is that I’m a hoarder.
Below is the Saibisugi compared to two gray squirrel cheek brushes from a relatively unknown brush brand, the Chikuhodo Z-8 and Z-4 (review on those two here). *sarcasm* Both are wider at the ferrule in profile view. The hairs more densely packed and dont taper to as precise of a point. The Z-4 is closer in shape and function, but the body has more resistance and feels positively springy in comparison the the Saibisugi. I don’t have the Suqqu cheek to compare to (does someone want to donate one? 😉 for science!) but i suspect this that the Saibisugi might be more weightless feeling than even the Suqqu cheek. Both the Z-8 and Z-4 have more blending power.
The Saibisugi’s feel is most similar to that of the Koyudo Red Squirrel Blush Brush (Second release) because red squirrel is the closest you will get to replicating the feel of saibikoho hairs. I’ll not linger on this one too long because you can’t buy it directly anymore. The R Sq has almost the same flexibility, the hairs feel very similar, but the R Sq is still denser (i give it a 4) and not as sleek in it’s taper. They also perform almost the same, neither are strong blenders but are really good at elegant layering of color. There is a 3rd release of the Red Squirrel brush here if you’re thinking of giving it a try as a substitution for the Saibisugi. I’m not sure if it is denser, airy-er or the same density as the Gen 2 though.
The Koyudo BP018 is the slimmest, with the steepest taper and closest in shape(from both profile and face on sides). However, the big difference is that the BP018 is noticeably denser and firmer (this brush is average, i would rate it a 5). The Saibikoho has the resistance of a cotton puff while the BP018, in comparison, feels like a cosmetic sponge. Also, as I said before, gray squirrel hairs have more texture and pick up more powder so coloring will be stronger. It is marveloulsy soft though, and is a pretty good alternative that doesn’t smash the bank into confetti sized pieces. If the BP018 had a Yakusugi handle i think i would like it just as much as, if not more than, the Saibisugi becuase it has the ability to blend out over applied color. If the Saibisugi had the moderate density of the BP018, but retained all its other characteristics, it would be THE ultimate cheek brush.
Below are size comparisons to some other similar-sized, popular white cheek brushes, with the exception of the c019 which is waaaay underrated. The 3 on the left (Saibisugi, BP016, SJ110) all have pinched ferrules and oval foot prints. Face on they seem pretty similar but from the profile, the SJ110 is the fluffiest and fattest (most puffed out) with the least tapered tip and less suitable for highlight than the BP016 and Saibisugi.
The T-4 and C019 have round ferrules ad circular footprints and are not similar in shape at all. The T-4 is just in there for size comparison but the c019 is in there because i think that it has the closest application to the Saibisugi. The c019 is duofiber (goat and synthetic). The distribution of the synthetic within the natural bristles is unique in that it’s even, rather than grouped. The longer syn hairs don’t clump together like the syn fibers in most other duo fiber brushes are prone to doing! They are spaced out enough to give a diffuse, whisper of an application, and the goat hair in the belly of the brush helps them rebound back. The syn bristles have a similar smoothness and slipperiness to the saibikoho hairs which makes it funtion approximately the same, applying color in sheer light layers. The individual bristles are larger in diameter, stronger, less flexible than saibikoho but they are almost as soft, and the application effect and the effort it takes to achieve that effect is very similar. Honestly, if you’re looking for a good brush to get instead of the Saibisugi, this is my first recommendation. And yes, it is tapered enough for highlight.
I don’t currently own any Hakuhodo brushes that resemble the Saibisugi but here are some similar brushes that i remember from when I visited their showroom:
- the K/B002 (flattish paddle shape w/ a rounded crown) hairs are blue squirrel, larger and the hairs is longer, greater density of hairs but similar in flexibility
- the S111 or S111Bk (blue squirrel) are closer in size, fluffier, a little denser, and more firm/less flexible (but not by much).
If you get an alternative and want to give it a home, safe from dust and light, you can get a Paulownia Wooden Box alone for 3,000 yen ($22-26 depending on the exchange rate). This solo one is bigger and is velvet lined, but honestly? It’s not worth it imo. Palouwina reminds me of the cheap balsa wood sticks that i used to make bridges for the earthquake simulator, airplane frames, and shitty arrows in my middle school years. It’s super light. Yes the wood is silky, nice, and well-made/constructed, but i would not pay for it on its own. I like heavy, solid woods.
My brush shed two hairs in the time I’ve had it (about a week apart). My heart hurt each time.
I can’t stop sniffing or using it. Yakusugi and saibikoho should be classified as addictive substances and come with the warning that like some drugs, they should not be taken together.
Remember, the actual brush is called the Saibikoho Blush Brush (Yakusugi Japanese Cedar Handle), not “saibisugi” as i have been calling it the whole time.
All in all this is a really, REALLY nice brush but not worth it at full price unless you are a collector or that you decide that you absolutely need/want a saibikoho brush. This one is actually the cheapest of all the Saibikoho cheek brushes that Koyudo has released to date. I got it without hesitation because it has both saibikoho AND Yakusugi wood which, otherwise, is only available in the so-expensive-it’s-time-to-diet-for-the-next-year Red Squirrel Yakusugi Set for 150,000 yen. Suddenly 25,000 for the Saibisugi seems like a bargain… >_> What have we learned here today? Everything is relative.
Best Performance Dupe: C019 – 3,360 yen / $25-29 (Goat + Synthetic) – different shape but applies product to the same effect, also reasonably soft enough to compare, also wins as the cheapest alternative. OR Koyudo Red Squirrel Blush Brush (Second release) – most similar in softness, density, and flexibility, but had a limited run so it’s hard to get. Unavailable now, but you can stalk blog sales or take a gander and try the 3rd release
(8,800 yen or $64-68) which comes with a box.
Runner Up: Koyudo BP018 – 8,250 yen / $65-70 (gray squirrel) – most similar shape wise AND softness wise, denser, more springy but still good.
All the rest ranked:
- Koyudo BP016 – 5,040 yen / $39-43 (saikoho) – similar size + shape, too firm, saikoho goat) tied with Chikuhodo Z-4 – 6,500 yen / $51-55 (gray squirrel) – similar size + softness, more springy and plush
- Hakuhodo SJ110 or BJ110 – $77 / $54 (saikoho) – similar shape, close enough in shape, semi precise taper, not as soft
- Chikuhodo Z-8 – 10,000 yen / $80-84 (gray squirrel) – larger but close in softness
- Chikuhodo T-4 – 5,000 yen / $39-43 (Saikoho) – least soft, different shape. This is only on here because i showed it in the size comparison pic.
Where to Get Dupes
All the ones that have links in the section above can be found on CDJapan. Here’s a guide and intro to ordering from them.
The Hakuhodo can be found here @ $77 for the SJ110 (vermillion handle + gold ferrule version) or you can get the B/J110 here for $54 which has the normal handle and ferrule. Shipping from Hakuhdo is quite hefty, while CDJapan running a free shipping promo from now until April.