Here’s a presentation of the three chasen I now offers on Thés du Japon online shop and basic information on chasen and Takayama. All three are from (obviously) Takayama (city of Ikoma in Nara Prefecture), made by young craftsmen, in their thirties, Mrs. Kubo and his wife, from Kubo-komakichi Shoten. In Ikoma, Kubo is a very common name, and number of chasen manufacturers bear this name. Takayama is the big historic center of chasen since the period of Sen-no-Rikyu. Almost all the chasen made in Japan from Takayama.
I talk about chasen “made in Japan” because many chasen sold in Japan and elsewhere are made in China. These are cheaper, not necessarily of poor quality, but it seems that many bamboos are treated with pesticides. However in recent years the price of Chinese chasen increases, then the price difference is reduced (I think chasen made in Vietnam will begin to appear one day or the other), and many people are beginning to return to chasen made in Japan. This is a great thing, except that Takayama, especially in small workshops, production do not manage to keep up with demand.
The manufacture of chasen itself is very detailed and complicated, and the preparation of bamboo also requires much time.
In the Takayama Chikurin-en you’ll find a kind of museum with bamboo crafts of the region with of course highlighting on chasen. Besides presenting the different stages of manufacture, a multitude of different shaped chasen are exposed. There are about sixty kind of chasen shape, whose use depends on different tea ceremony schools. Four types of bamboo, shirotake 白竹 or awatake 淡竹 (white, the most widely used), kuro-take 黒竹 (black, mostly used by the Musakoji-senke school) susutake 煤竹 (brown, used by the Omotesenke school, is very rare today) and finally aotake 青竹 (green, used for ceremonies of the new year).
The strings who hold the branches spread on the bottom of the chasen are usually black, but as opportunities, one is used with white or red string, sometimes for special events, or even simple customization, you can order a combination of three different colors, such as blue-white-red (like for a tea ceremony held at the Embassy of France, why not).
Depending on the thickness of the bamboo is obtained a different number of branches, about 60 (数穂 Kazuho), 80 (八十本立 hachijuppon-acetate), 100 (百本立 hyappon-acetate), 120 (百二十本立 hyakunijuppon -tate).
However, the “kankyû-an” has a very specific form, similar to the so-called “Rikyu-gonomi” appreciated by Sen no Rikyu. Its use seemed more difficult. In fact, this type of chasen seems to me not really suited to classical bowls, but works very well with Raku type flat bottom bowls. Given the affection of Rikyû for this type of bowl shape, it can be understood (pure supposition on my part). It seems to me a very thick foam, but with large bubbles.
I also want to point out that the matcha from Uji-Shirakawa sold now come from lots of tencha ground more recently, with improved maturation (the first batches put on sale in September were milled end of August, which might be a bit too early), stronger, round and rich.