Osaka bamboo screens Osaka kongo sudare
Natural bamboo cooling the summer heat
Fresh breezes, soft light, and shade
Osaka Kongo Sudare are bamboo blinds produced in the cities of Tondabayashi and Kawachi-Nagano in Osaka Prefecture. Tondabayashi City lies at the foot of Mt. Kongo, the highest mountain in Osaka, and good quality madake bamboo growing naturally in the area provide the raw materials for this local industry.
Even today the main tasks for making Osaka Kongo Sudare are carried out by hand. These beautiful blinds have been used for centuries as sunshades, room partitions or to provide protection from insects; with time and use, they develop an attractive antique patina. Nowadays, vinyl, plastic, or imported blinds are available; however, hand-made Osaka Kongo Sudare using natural bamboo and being both practical and decorative are still in demand.
In addition, bamboo blinds block strong sunlight and are airy even in hot and humid summer weather; in today’s energy conscious society both features are being reevaluated. Cool bamboo blinds are the traditional antidote to the hot humid Japanese summer and today as high-class interior fittings, Osaka Kongo Sudare continue playing a breezy part in modern-day life.
The history of sudare blinds in Japan is considered to predate the 7th century as the word sudare is mentioned in the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), the oldest anthology of waka poems in Japan. In the essay Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book) written by Sei Shonagon in the middle of the Heian period (794-1185), sudare is also described. The omisu (blinds found in palaces and the like) used as partitions between two rooms and as adornments in the Heian period Imperial Court seem to be the forerunners of the present-day ozashiki sudare (blinds used for Japanese-style rooms).
The history of Osaka Kongo Sudare dates back to 1655 or so in the early Edo period when villagers in Shindo Village (present Wakamatsu Town, Tondabayashi City) made bamboo wares using good quality bamboo from the Mt. Kongo area to supplement their farm income. Over the centuries Shindo Village kept growing as a production center of bamboo blinds and basket ware, and around 1960, the village was one of the leading centers in Japan. Today, in addition to the production of blinds with traditional designs, contemporary designs are being developed, but still maintaining their original function as natural sunshades.
General Production Process
- 1. Felling and Cutting Bamboo
The making of sudare starts with selecting three- to four-year-old fine quality bamboos growing in bamboo thickets; they are usually felled from around October through to February, when their water content is at its lowest. The bamboos are washed and sun-dried, their color changing from a green-blue to the typical bamboo yellow. They are then cut to length.
- 2. Stripping the Outer Layer
Naturally the surface of the cut bamboo has joints, scars, and stains, all of which are rectified or removed by scraping. The joint nodes are cut off individually by using a small bow-shaped knife, followed by stripping off the outer layer with a barking-knife. All these apparently simple tasks actually require a surprising degree of skill so as not to damage the beauty of the bamboo.
- 3. Splitting the Bamboo
The bamboo is repeatedly split into fine strips. A variety of tools are used such as a bamboo splitting knife, small Japanese sword, and hatchet to roughly split the lengths of round bamboo into eight strips of equal width, each of which is further split into four. Even though bamboo fiber runs in a lengthwise direction and has an easy-to-split structure, it is still a difficult task to accurately split it; despite this feature, skilled craftsmen split the bamboo quickly and smoothly by eye.
- 4. Making the Strips
The split bamboo is shaved with a small knife and divided into the outer and inner layers, and the strips are further shaved and thinned. Making strips of a uniform width is a difficult task; however, with one hand holding a strip and the other the small knife, the craftsman rhythmically shaves the strip with a practiced eye. The thickness and width of strips are made uniform and cut in accordance with the blind to be produced.
- 5. Polishing and Coloring
The completed bamboo strips are polished with a polishing machine, and strips to be used in blinds for shrines and temples are dyed yellow.
- 6. Assembling the Blind
The basic principle of assembly is very simple, individual strips are joined together with cotton or silk threads; the first strip of a regular blind is laid along a frame and every 10 cm or so, threads are tied to it. The next strip is laid alongside and the threads crossed over to hold it in place, and this process is repeated until the blind is finished. For ease of crossing the threads, they are first wound around reels, and the reels are thrown back and forth across the strip to affix it to the blind. The number of threads and intervals between them will vary depending on the thickness of the strip and the size of the blind. By adjusting the spacing of the threads different patterns can be created such as the classic chevron design. In the course of the threading, the reels create a rhythmic clacking sound, rather like a percussion instrument. Natural bamboo strips are not uniform; therefore, the craftsman discards misshapen strips as they work.
- 7. Cutting Japanese Brocade
Both side edges of the blind are trimmed to size and a horizontal crosspiece of Nishijin silk damask or Japanese brocade is attached. When several blinds are arranged and hung in a row, it is difficult to ensure perfect pattern continuity with no misalignment, but with no ruler or other tools, the craftsman cuts the whole cloth in a straight line, maintaining the continuity of the beautiful design.
- 8. Attaching Tassels and Metal Fittings
Metal fittings and tassels are attached to finish this high-end Osaka Kongo Blind made of the finest natural bamboo with beautiful ornamentation.