The history of bamboo craft and the Iizuka Family
Bamboo works were brought to Japan along with sencha tea from China during the Muromachi period, with karamonokago (Chinese-style bamboo flower basket used to complement the tea ceremony) becoming much valued between the end of the Edo period and the Meiji period as sencha became popularly enjoyed. At the time artisans called kagoshi (bamboo basket makers) created copies of karamonokago vases made with delicate skills. As time passed, however, artisans began creating their own unique bamboo baskets, and many bamboo artists who now signed on their works — something unconventional until then — began to appear in the Kansai and Kantō regions, including the Iizuka Family of Tochigi.
Presented baskets to the Taisho Emperor
The Iizuka Family who became widely known in Tochigi city arrived in Tokyo in 1910. Hōsai I (Hō’ō, 1851-1916), Hōsai II (1872-1934) and Yanosuke (Rōkansai, 1890-1958) created the set of Shinpukuiri mekago baskets for storing clothing offered to the gods used during the ceremonial festival celebrating the succession of the Taishō Emperor. 
Rōkansai sought to make bamboo craft as an art and received many awards for his works presented at public exhibitions like the Japan Art Academy Exhibition (Teiten). In 1939 he became the first person from the bamboo craft world to be assigned the post of judge at the Third Bunten Exhibition. In 1933 German architect Bruno Taut visited Japan and went to Rōkansai’s residence, praising his work by saying: “In Japan, there is Tanabe Chiku’unsai in the west, and Iizuka Rōkansai in the East”. Rōkansai’s refined style was inherited by his son, Shōkansai (1919-2004), who in 1982 was recognized as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property in the field of bamboo craft.
From Rōkansai to the modern day
Currently, there are many bamboo craft artists working in and around Ōtawara city in Tochigi prefecture. The Nasu area (where Ōtawara city is located) in the north of the prefecture has been known to be a land of fertile soil bought in by Naka River and of distinct seasonal climate, making it perfect for cultivating long and flexible bamboo suited for crafting. It was Suzuki Hōsai (1905-1982) from Kurobane-machi (present-day Ōtawara city) who trained under Iizuka Hōsai II and who made the foundation of bamboo craft in Japan in the midst of high demands for daily items like sieves and baskets, and it was Yagisawa Keizō (1927-2006) who further develop his work. Suzuki Hōsai’s workshop helped to train artists who would later present many of their works at central public exhibitions.
Today, Katsushiro Sōhō (b. 1934) who resides in Tochigi prefecture and Fujinuma Noburu (b. 1945) are both holders of Important Intangible Cultural Property in the field of bamboo craft. Since Japan established the Living National Treasure title, this is the first time two artists from the same prefecture have been recognized for their contributions to bamboo craft, demonstrating the high level of Tochigi’s bamboo craft.
Fascinating bamboo works
Rōkansai created three styles, Shin (proper), Gyō (casual), and Sō (rough) to demonstrate the elegance of bamboo crafts. For works presented at public exhibitions he would use the Shin (true) style using intricate weaving in a classical style, while for private exhibitions he would use either Gyō (casual) or Sō (rough) style to freely weave his works. He also signed on many of his works. The shape of his objects created with such outstanding skills and his signature work in perfect harmony, resulting in artistic and extremely creative bamboo craft pieces.
Shin (proper)
Gyō  (casual)
Sō (rough)
Production Process: Removing bamboo skin
Bamboo craft begins with the making of bamboo strips. First, after oil is removed from the bamboo for insect proofing, the skin is thinning shaved off using a blade tool called sen — only 0.1 mm is shaved off. With oil and skin removed, the bamboo can now be easily dyed.
Splitting and stripping
The bamboo is split vertically in half using a hatchet. As the bamboo gets thinner, so must the artisan change the hatchet with a thinner blade. The inside part of bamboo joints is also removed. Next, the inner side of the bamboo is stripped. Only the outer part of the bamboo will be used as strips for weaving. The inner fiber part is too frail for use and is thus discarded.
To make the strips, artisans use the two techniques, masawari and hirawari. Masawari is where the bamboo is split down the center and is suited for hard bamboos grown in the Kantō region. On the other hand, hirawari is where the bamboo is split across the center. Combining both techniques allows the artisan a wide range of artistic expressions. 
Determining the width
Each bamboo strip is passed through two sen blades to achieve equal width. The width is adjusted according to the type of basket to be woven, but it is generally 2 mm. Then, Joints are shaved and split into four equal parts. The bamboo is passed through between two sen blades again, this time to shave it down to a consistent thickness of about 0.4 mm.
The color of the bamboo strips
To ensure consistent color for certain types of work, the strips may be pre-dyed. In the case of Master Katsushiro, he does not generally dye the strips separately, but focuses on allowing the weaving and changing of light to enhance the effect of his baskets on the viewer. 
Baskets are woven from bottom up. In this example the inner bottom and outer bottom are separately woven and later placed on on the other. The sides are woven by dampening the strips and weaving them horizontally to make the first vertical layer. Once done the angle of the basket is then determined.
Rim finishing
After the body is woven, dyed cane strip is then used to finish the rim. The bamboo basket becomes brittle when dry, so the cane strip is passed through the weaving gaps, instead of opening holes in the bamboo. Only a minimum amount of cane strip is used to avoid over-decorating the basket.
Coating with lacquer
Lacquer thinned with kerosene is applied from the inner part of the raised bottom using a brush. After the entire basket has been coated, further coating is applied using a large brush. The basket is then left to dry at controlled temperatures. This is repeated 4-5 times. The coating is a technique for enhancing the beauty of the bamboo, more than to show the lacquering. 
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Iizuka Mari, Saito Masamitsu, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts、Tochigi City

Text written by Suzuki Satomi Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Photo by Otani Ichiro, Ogawa Kyoichiro, Kisaragi Moe, Tanaka Gakuji

Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako (Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))
and Watanabe Aoi, Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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