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 in the city of Beppu, Oita prefecture mainly from odake bamboo* grown and harvested locally. This craft is entirely handmade and uses a distinctive range of basic weaving techniques. It is also the only Japanese traditional craft in Oita prefecture to be designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. There are eight basic weaving patterns. Some of these patterns are a cross, hexagon, octagon, and bull's eye. Two hundred pattern combinations are possible from the original eight weaving designs. In addition to standard daily use items like flower, fruit, and rice baskets, there are also popular items that cater to more contemporary tastes, such as handbag or shopping baskets. The craft is not limited to just baskets and containers, but is also used in more artistic works, like for the recent interior design of a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) in Beppu city.
*Odake bamboo or giant timber bamboo is a strong, thick type of bamboo.
A document from the Nara period (710-794), Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan), states that Beppu bamboo crafts originate from when the 12th Emperor of Japan, Keiko (who reigned from 71-130 A.D.), visited Beppu on his return from an expedition to 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), the baskets were used by nomadic peddlers to carry their merchandise, beginning the Beppu bamboo crafts market. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Beppu became widely known as one of Japan's best hot spring resorts, and bamboo baskets for storing cooked rice were sold to visitors from all over the country, making bamboo crafts popular as souvenir items. The production of bamboo crafts continued to increase and a local weaving industry became well established. In 1902, with the founding of the Department of Bamboo Basket Crafts in the Beppu Technical Apprentice School, Beppu bamboo crafts were acknowledged as not just souvenirs, but as high quality products of excellent craftsmanship. In 1967, the weaver Shounsai IKUNO was appointed as the first Living National Treasure for bamboo crafts. 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 Economy, Trade and Industry and can be enjoyed as both daily use items and art pieces.
General Production Process
- 1. Harvesting and removal of oil
Good quality green bamboo is harvested after three or four years of growing in a grove. It is then cut to size and boiled in water mixed with caustic soda for about fifteen minutes to remove excess oil.
- 2. Sun drying
After boiling, the bamboo is laid in the sun to dry and turn a beautiful ivory yellow. After drying, it is known as sarashi (bleached) bamboo and is the main bamboo product used by weavers.
- 3. Rough cutting
The sun-dried bamboo is cut to the required lengths using a rough cutting tool. The joint sections are cut off before splitting the bamboo in half along its grain with a knife. This step is repeated many times and although it seems to be a simple task, it actually takes about three years of practice to be able to cut straight, thin, and well-balanced split pieces.
- 4. Skinning
The bamboo pieces are removed of their soft, inner layer and split into narrower, thinner lengths in the following order: roughly skinning, splitting in small pieces, and lightly skinning. For rough skinning, the pieces are stripped until the ratio of exterior bark to the interior is about 4:6.
- 5. Finishing thin bamboo strips
A tool called a sukisen gives a uniform thickness to the strips. Also a uniform width is achieved by pulling the strips between two small blades and the corners are rounded off with a chamfer knife in preparation for weaving.
- 6. Weaving the base
In bamboo weaving, the bottom section requires the highest skill level as it is difficult to create a solid body from a flat surface. For this step, the bamboo is softened over a flame.
- 7. Weaving the body
The body of the bamboo craft is woven as a continuous piece. Based on the design and purpose, the weaving technique is changed or spaced.
- 8. Finishing the rim and adding handles
The weaving process is complete after the rim is woven. There are several rim finishing techniques: a continuation of the main body, a solid bamboo rim fixed with bamboo strips or wire, or Japanese wisteria wrapping around the rim. Green or white baskets are not lacquer-coated or dyed and are ready for use once the rim and handles have been added.
- 9. Coating
Coating involves applying an undercoat of dye, boiling, and after drying, polishing the article gently with a cloth. Too much pressure while polishing can damage the bamboo and cause a loss of shine so careful attention is paid. Raw lacquer is often used as a finish. However, sometimes concentrated colored lacquer or raw lacquer is 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 retain moisture. Some pieces will be decorated further before they are finished and ready for use.
Where to Buy & More Information
Beppu Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center
Address8-3 Higashisoen, Beppu-shi, Oita, 874-0836, Japan
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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