Kishu bamboo fishing rods Kishu herazao
A bamboo rod of great skill and beauty
Quietly fishing for cautious carp
Kishu Herazao are bamboo fishing rods produced in Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture and are for catching herabuna, the Japanese crucian carp. Koya-chiku, madake, and yadake bamboos are cut, left to dry for several years and then carefully assessed.
Hashimoto City is located at the foot of Mt. Koya, a major growing area of Koya-chiku, and in the city yadake also grows abundantly; it was only natural that the making of fishing rods to catch these local carp became popular. There are 130 stages of handwork to make one fishing rod, from cutting through to bamboo assembly and finish, all of which are carried out by one artisan. The characteristic features of Kishu Herazao are the thick handle beautifully decorated and colored with lustrous urushi (lacquer), and the namitsugi jointing technique to prevent the rod from breaking. It is worth noting as rods can be made of three to five bamboo sections each measuring about 90 cm in length, there are considerable stresses and strains when landing a carp, and rods must be both strong and flexible. These rods are certainly at the high end of the market as they are beautifully decorated and takes about six months to complete one fishing rod, but even so, anglers who fish for this carp in their dreams long to one day own a Kishu Herazao.
In Osaka in 1882, a master artisan Mizoguchi Shoji (Saosho I) started making fishing rods to catch black porgy; the name in brackets is the artisan’s rod signature name inscribed on a rod. He was the inventor of the kezuriho making technique involving splitting and shaving the thick and hard madake bamboo. His eldest son, Mizoguchi Shonosuke (Saosho II), apprenticed himself to his father in 1907. One day Shonosuke, while looking at the shaved thin bamboo splits used to prevent fabric shrinkage when washing kimono, had an inspiration to apply the kezuriho making technique to the hosaki tip end of a fishing rod. Tsubakii Goro (Saogoro), an apprentice of Shonosuke, was the developer of the Kishu Herazao style of fishing rod in which thick and strong Koya-chiku bamboo with close nodes was used for the homochi mid-section, underneath the hosaki tip end section. Kojima Mitsuo (Shiko), an apprentice of Saogoro, returned to Hashimoto City in 1931, followed in 1934 by Yamada Iwayoshi (Genkanshi); both of them became independent and since then, the techniques of authentic Kishu Herazao have been passed down through the generations. Kishu Herazao has lineages of fishing rod artisans, and up to the present, the skills and techniques have been continuously handed down from master to apprentice.
General Production Process
- 1. Drying the Bamboo
To make Kishu Herazao, three varieties of bamboo are required, Koya-chiku, madake, and yadake. Bamboos cut from October to December are sun-dried until the end of April so as to avoid the mold and insects of early summer. The bamboos are stored in a well-ventilated room before they are carefully selected. Some rods are made of bamboo kept for 3 years after drying. In particular, Koya-chiku develops spots when dried; they are called mon (patterns) and much appreciated.
- 2. Selecting the Pieces
The basic design for a typical rod will have three or four sections: a hosaki tip end made of supple madake; a homochi mid-section made of thick springy Koya-chiku; sometimes a samban third section; and a moto handle made of yadake, which is also used for Japanese bows. Drawing on their years of experience, the artisan assesses the characteristics, balance, and weight of each bamboo section with an eye to how they will all fit together and work as a fishing rod. This is a highly skilled task as bamboo is a natural material, no two pieces are alike, and every rod will have its own character and feel.
- 3. Firing
A section of bamboo is stroked through a charcoal fire to soften; the fire gives off heat and far-infrared rays, which permeate inside the bamboo. The warmed bamboo is straightened by working it through a groove cut in a tamegi block made of hard wood such as oak, cherry, or chestnut. After heating, the fibers harden turning the bamboo into a material ideally suited for fishing rods. This process is repeated 3 to 4 times to increase the bamboo’s springiness; this is an important process requiring great skill.
- 4. Removing the Insides
When they are not in use, Kishu Herazao are compact, but when assembled they measure 2 to 6 meters. A straightened bamboo rod is cut into an upper and lower part and the inside of the samban third and moto handle sections are removed by using a long drill so that the hosaki tip end and homochi mid-sections can be inserted.
- 5. Carving
The takejiri joint sections are prepared by filing and cutting the bamboo into a rounded tapered shape, which will fit into the end of the next rod section.
- 6. Winding Silk Thread
At the end of the next rod section (tamaguchi), the bamboo is wound and reinforced with silk thread to prevent vertical splitting.
- 7. Applying Lacquer
Lacquer is applied to the silk thread, which is then polished with emery cloth and water; this process is repeated to give strength.
- 8. Fitting the Pieces Together
In accordance with the taper of the takejiri at the joint section, a hole is drilled at the tamaguchi section. This is a test of the artisan’s skill as it must be neither too tight, nor too easy to remove; just so.
- 9. Handle
The handle is built up by wrapping strips of washi (traditional Japanese paper) around the bamboo and holding in place with thread. On this washi base, some fishing rods are decorated by using the techniques of beautiful craftwork, such as raden (mother-of-pearl inlay) where the rainbow-colored interior of a shell is thinly cut, and inlaid in a lacquer base, or maki-e (sprinkled picture decoration) where gold and silver powders are used to depict designs on a lacquer base. The decoration allows the artisan free rein to express their creativity and produce highly original designs through the application of colored lacquer or such techniques.
- 10. Carving the Tip
Madake bamboo measuring at least 10 cm diameter and more than 5-year-old is finely split, and then glued together and shaved thinly into a round length to make the tip of the rod. A blade and file are used to reduce the bamboo to a width of 1 mm; this delicate work requires a considerable degree of skill.
- 11. Applying Lacquer to the Body (Wiping the Body)
Lacquer is applied with fingers to the whole rod, followed by drying and polishing; this process is repeated to give luster and reinforcement. This repeated work of lacquering, wiping off, and drying takes much time and labor. Moreover, as lacquer may cause a skin rash, both skill and endurance are required to finish the rod.
- 12. Finishing
All rod pieces are connected; the artisan makes fine adjustments by heating and paying the closest attention, so that the angler will be truly satisfied. The rod signature of the artisan is inscribed to complete.