I came across the new Japonesque Kumadori brush series back in April while harmlessly (humor me) strolling the aisles of Ulta. The presentation and the resemblance to traditional Japanese brushes were too tempting to skip, especially since the Hakuhodo equivalents are among my favorite and most used brushes. Of course, one must take into account that the real Japanese brushes are meticulously handmade, while the more commercial Japonesque is mass produced.
Japonesque Kumadori brushes have beautiful and sturdy handles. Some are wrapped (like the traditional Japanese brushes) in wisteria stalks. and the whole look is more NARS than Hakuhodo. During the first couple of weeks I've been testing them I was sure the brushes were made from synthetic hair, because the fibers have a glossy sheen. However, further research (as in actually reading the available information) revealed that it's actually natural hair, though nowhere does it give particulars. If I had to guess I'd say coarse goat hair, and it's obviously cut, since the ends are rather blunt. You don't get Sokoho quality hair for these prices, and I'm perfectly fine with that in this case.
I picked four out of the five Kumadori brushes Japonesque offers (I skipped the fan brush, deciding I have more than enough of those. It looked like the equivalent of Smashbox #22 or Sephora #65). The largest of the group is the powder brush ($28), which looks like an oversized Yachiyo. The handle is proportionate to the head, and it feels sturdy and balanced. It is meant to be used with powder products: finishing/setting, bronzer, or mineral foundation. The size is comparable to something like Goss 00 brush, but obviously this brush is not nearly as soft. A closer comparison would probably be to Bobbi Brown's biggest powder brush ($66), so if you're after a snappy massive powder brush this Japonesque Kumadori is something to consider. Personally, I prefer somewhat smaller brushes for most powder uses, or a significantly softer one for the final blending and finishing of the face. I do find this particular brush efficient for a quick cleanup, though nearly three months and several washings later it still sheds and leaves some hair on my face.
Yachiyo brushes are incredibly versatile because of their size and shape. While my first go-to for blush application is the medium one by Hakuhodo, a large Yachiyo is perhaps my favorite tool for powdering the face and blending everything together. My old NARS has somewhat faded and frayed over the years, and I find the Japonesque Kumadori Contour and Highlighting brush ($19) a good equal. Both aren't half as soft as my Hakuhodo, but they're good for quick and dirty jobs. Do note that I cannot comment on comparison to the newest version of NARS since I haven't purchased it. It is, supposedly, far superior to the old and somewhat scratchy version. Also, while Japonesque has designated their Yachiyo for contouring and highlighting I personally think it's far too large for that. The brush blends well, but would pick up too much product for my comfort, and distribute it too far on the face.
I love my Hakuhodo Mizubake brush It's a favorite for cream and liquid blushes because it blends flawlessly. It's also a very good foundation brush, especially if you're after a not-too-firm and quite soft flat top brush. Japonesque's Buffing Brush ($22) is denser (hence the buffing thing) and not as soft as my Hakuhodo, but it performs reasonably well. It also solves my one annoyance with the Hakuhodo by offering a slightly longer handle. Once again, shedding is an issue here (cream products exacerbate it), but I hope that eventually this will stop, because I find this brush to be a good backup, and at less than half the price I really can't complain.
NARS has discontinued their original large Ita brush #28 long before the redesign of their brush collection. They brought back the smaller Ita (formerly #21), but I have no experience with them, because I switched to Hakuhodo and haven't looked back since. The old NARS ones kind of sucked, because they were too scratchy. Japonesque's Blending Brush ($24) is better in this regard, but it's not truly an Ita brush. If you look closely you can see that it's significantly thicker, has longer hair and is shaped with a slight curve. This is why it's a blending brush and not one meant for sculpting and defining. Nor is it recommended for foundation application because of the sharp corners of the handle. Now that I think of it, this brush could also be compared to the lovely Tarte Swirl Power brush ($34), which is thicker than an Itabake and and has a similar curve to the Japonesque. However, the synthetic fibers Tarte uses are much softer than the Kumadori, and I'm guessing we all have better blending brushes that have a friendlier shape and/or feel gentler on the skin (and most likely both). If you're looking for a true Itabake brush I still think Hakuhodo is the way to go. I have the tiny version as well as the large one you see above (which isn't even the biggest offered), and between the two I'm covered (no pun intended), though I've been eyeing the medium one because it looks like a power tool that can multitask.
Bottom Line: I'd go with the Mizubake and Yachiyo shapes and skip the others.
Japonesque Kumadori Makeup Brushes ($19-28, made in China) are available from Ulta, where right now they have a Buy One, Get One 50% off sale on the brand.