Beppu bamboo crafts Beppu take zaiku
Delicately woven bamboo crafts
Skills passed down from the Nara period
What is Beppu bamboo crafts ?
Beppu Take Zaiku are bamboo crafts produced centering on Beppu City, Oita Prefecture, and mainly made from madake bamboo grown and harvested in the local area. Beppu bamboo crafts are all handmade and characterized by a distinctive range of eight basic weaving techniques, and in Oita Prefecture are the only Japanese traditional craftwork designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The eight basic weaving patterns are yotsume (cross), mutsume (hexagonal), yatsume (octagonal), ajiro (net), gozame (mat), matsuba (pine needle), kikuzoko (chrysanthemum bottom), and rinko (bull’s eye). By combining the eight techniques over 200 patterns can be woven. In addition to traditional articles for daily use including flower, fruit, and rice baskets, baskets catering to more contemporary tastes, such as handbags or for shopping, are also popular. The craft is not just limited to the making of baskets and containers, but is also used in more artistic works, as recently seen by the great public interest aroused when bamboo was used for the interior decoration of a Japanese-style hotel in Beppu City. Such beautiful bamboo crafts incorporating outstanding techniques are acknowledged by many people as among the finest of handcrafted products and have many fans both in Japan and abroad.
According to the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) from the Nara period (710-794), Beppu bamboo crafts originated when the Emperor Keiko visited Beppu on his return from an expedition to Kumaso in southern Kyushu. While staying in the area, the Emperor’s private chef wove a rice bowl basket from the local bamboo. By the Muromachi period (1336-1573), baskets were used by itinerant peddlers to carry their wares and this was the start of the bamboo crafts market in Beppu. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Beppu was widely known as Japan’s best hot spring resort, and bamboo baskets for storing cooked rice were sold to visitors from all over the country; bamboo crafts became increasingly popular as items for everyday use and souvenirs. The production of bamboo crafts continued to increase and a local weaving industry became well established. In 1902, with the foundation of the Department of Bamboo Basket Crafts in the Beppu Technical Apprentice School, Beppu bamboo crafts were acknowledged as more than just simple souvenirs and grew into high quality products of excellent craftsmanship. In 1967, the weaver Shounsai IKUNO was appointed as the first living national treasure for bamboo crafts and steps were taken to ensure the handing down of advanced skills. In 1979, Beppu bamboo crafts were designated as Japanese traditional craftwork by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (present Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and to date, Beppu bamboo crafts are widely enjoyed as both craft products and artworks.
General Production Process
- 1. Harvesting and Removal of Oil Bamboo grows in groves and good quality green bamboo is harvested after 3 or 4 years, cut to size and boiled in caustic soda water for about 15 minutes to remove excess oil.
- 2. Sun-Drying After boiling, the bamboo is laid in the sun to dry and turns a beautiful ivory yellow; it is known as sarashi-dake and is the main bamboo raw product used by weavers.
- 3. Rough-Cutting The sun-dried bamboo is now cut into suitable lengths using a kikuwari tool and the joint sections are cut off before splitting the bamboo in half along its grain with a knife. Rough-cutting (vertical splitting) is carried out many times and although a seemingly simple task, it actually takes about 3 years of practice to cut straight, thin, and well-balanced split pieces.
- 4. Stripping The split bamboo pieces are stripped of their soft, inner layer, and split into narrower, thinner lengths by rough-stripping, small splitting, and on to thin stripping. In rough-stripping, the pieces are stripped until the ratio of exterior bark to the interior layer is about 4:6.
- 5. Finishing Thin Bamboo Strips A sukisen tool gives a uniform thickness to strips, and a uniform width is achieved by pulling them between two small blades; the corners are then rounded off with a chamfer knife in preparation for weaving.
- 6. Weaving the Base In bamboo weaving, the base or bottom section requires the highest skill as it is difficult to create a solid body from a plane surface; in this stage the bamboo is softened over a flame.
- 7. Weaving the Body and Neck The body is woven as a continuous piece, and according to the design and purpose, the article is shaped by changing or spacing the weaving technique.
- 8. Finishing the Rim and Adding Fittings The rim is woven to complete the weaving process. There are several rim finishing techniques: for example, tomobuchi (a continuation of the main body), atebuchi (solid bamboo rim fitted and fixed with bamboo strips or wire), or makibuchi (bamboo or Japanese wisteria is wrapped around the rim). Green or white baskets are not lacquer-coated, or dyed and are ready for use once the rim and handles or fittings have been added.
- 9. Coating
Undyed green bamboo ware is known as aomono; ware made of oil-removed bamboo is shiromono; dyed ware is somemono; and lacquered ware is kuromono. Coating involves applying a first undercoat of dye by boiling, and after drying, the article is gently polished with a cloth. Too much pressure while polishing the weave can damage the bamboo and cause a loss of shine; therefore, great attention is paid in this stage. Raw lacquer is often used as a finish; however, sometimes, shuai-urushi, a concentrated colored lacquer, or raw lacquer may be applied to give an antique finish.
Since lacquer will only dry under the right temperature and humidity, the woven lacquered works are left in a wooden room specially designed to effectively retain moisture. Some pieces will receive further decoration before they are finished and ready for use.
Where to Buy & More Information
Beppu Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center
ClosedMondays (open if Monday is holiday and closed the next day), December 29 to January 1
Business Hours8:30am to 5pm
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