The fine art of bamboo basketry

Bamboo in Japanese Culture
Bamboo, a plant well suited to Japan's climate, has been indispensable to Japanese daily life since ancient times. Archaeological artifacts made from lacquered bamboo basketry (known in Japanese as rantai shikki) have been unearthed from sites dating back to Neolithic Japan, during the Jōmon period (ca. 10,500 BCE–ca. 300 BCE). The eighth century Shōsōin Repository in Nara houses intricately woven Buddhist ritual baskets called keko. As a material for making daily implements and tools, bamboo has been used for various purposes over the centuries.
Bamboo implements used in the ritual preparation of sencha (steeped green tea)
The techniques for bamboo basketry in Japan improved greatly during the eighteenth century, in the middle of the Edo period (1615–1868). During this time, especially in the area around Kyoto and Osaka, there was a surge of interest in the culture of Chinese literati— including Chinese poems, Chinese classics, and ink painting. Among these was the drinking and ritual preparation of sencha tea, for which bamboo implements were considered particularly suitable.
Japanese literati culture
Bamboo is evergreen, pliant, and can withstand strong winds. It is also easy to work with as a material. In China, bamboo has long been a symbol of the inner strength of one who can stand above others, gracefully maintaining one’s own integrity without bending. For these reasons, bamboo has long been favored by literati and other people of culture as a material for various implements .
Chinese (Karamono) Bamboo Baskets
From the end of the Edo period (1615–1868) through the beginning of the Shōwa period (1926–1989), the ritual practice of sencha (steeped green tea) preparation became popular across Japan, with cultured people holding tea gatherings. This trend was especially strong in Osaka and Sakai (a port city south of the city of Osaka). Sencha practitioners used bamboo baskets and other implements in their gatherings, so demand grew for the coveted imported Chinese baskets, known as karamono kago (literally, "Chinese baskets"). There were not enough Chinese baskets to meet this demand, for which reason the Japanese began making baskets of their own in Chinese styles.
Three Bamboo Masters
During the Meiji period there were three famous bamboo basketry craftsmen in Osaka who, while faithfully copying Chinese prototypes, also experimented with innovative new Japanese basket styles. These artisans were Wada Waichisai I (1851–1901) of Sumiyoshi, Donkōsai of Nanba, and Hayakawa Shōkosai I (1815–1897) of Senba.
Although there were over 40,000 bamboo artisans in all of Japan at the time, these three artists from Osaka were at the apex of their craft due to their sophisticated techniques.
Best Basket Makers in the World
In time, Japanese bamboo basketry also received international attention. The designer Christopher Dresser (1834–1904), who stayed in Japan between 1876 and 1877, wrote, “The Japanese are the best basket-makers in the world, and they alone have raised the manufacture to an art industry. They make baskets which are not only useful but beautiful, and many of them must be classed as true art objects.” (Christopher Dresser, Japan: its architecture, art, and art manufactures, 1982, p. 454.) The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, Germany, also has a number of works by Hayakawa Shōkosai I.
Tanabe Chikuunsai I (1877–1937)
In the early twentieth century, bamboo basket artisans, including the students of Wada Waichisai I (1851–1901), created a robust bamboo art environment in the Kansai region. Among these talented craftsmen, one of the best known in Osaka beginning in the late Meiji period was Tanabe Chikuunsai I (1877–1937). Chikuunsai I was somewhat of a renaissance man, skilled not only in his profession of bamboo basketry, but also in flower arrangement, ink painting, and sencha culture among other things. From the precise replication of intricate Chinese prototypes to innovative free-form basket making, he excelled in producing broad range of works out of the material of bamboo. Chikuunsai I also nurtured many students, passing his knowledge on to the next generation. In 1914 his work was presented for viewing by the imperial family, and was acquired for the imperial collections.
Bamboo, Rattan, and Lacquer
Bamboo artisans in Osaka continued producing works even after World War II, mainly flower baskets used for the chanoyu (powdered green tea) and sencha (steeped green tea) tea ceremonies and for flower arrangement. The main materials used to create bamboo crafts were bamboo, rattan, and lacquer. Of the 300 or so species of bamboo found in Japan only about 10 are used normally in basketry. .
Making Bamboo Strips
The process of bamboo basket making begins with the procurement of high quality bamboo from all over Japan and transforming these culms into strips. Rattan, which is more pliable, is used to bind the bamboo strips together, while lacquer is often used as a coating to finish the surface. Regardless of the shape of the work being produced, the basic methods used to prepare these materials has remained unchanged over time.
Japanese Bamboo Art on the World Scene
Since the 1980s, Japanese bamboo art has garnered interest around the world, particularly in the United States. Interest in Japanese basketry is not limited to intricately woven, traditional Chinese-style baskets; museums and collectors are also fascinated by contemporary Japanese bamboo art that is sometimes reminiscent of modern architecture. In whatever form it takes, the bamboo work of Sakai, Osaka, is a fusion of tradition, history, and modernity.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information & Images provided by Tanabe Shōchiku, Wakabayashi Akira, NAEJ Collection

Photo by Tadayuki Minamoto, Fujiwara Jiro, Saito Masamitsu

Movie by:Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

Text written by Shinya Maezaki, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University

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

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

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.
Translate with Google