Katsuyama bamboo makes the most of beauty of bamboo

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Katsuyama bamboo craft having developed in close contact with daily life.

Katsuyama Bamboo Craft is a traditional bamboo craft in the Katsuyama area around Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture. The main products are bamboo colanders and baskets. (There is also a osier made bag, named Toyooka Kiryu-Zaiku). The term “Souke” means “bamboo basket” in Japanese. In the past, it was an indispensable necessity for daily life, used to hold grains and vegetables, and to drain water from washed rice. 

There are four main types of Souke: Ozoukei, Komeage-zouke, Meshiage-zouke, and mizoukei.

Today, they are also used to make fashionable and contemporary products such as bread baskets and flower baskets. Only products whose edges are finished with the locally grown “tsuzurafuji” vine are recognized as traditional handicrafts by the Japanese government. Products with the edges finished with wire are simply treated as handicrafts.

Katsuyama bamboo craft
Source: MONOShoku

History of Katsuyama Bamboo Craft

“Souke,” the main product of Katsuyama bamboo crafts, has long been made as a practical product for agricultural work and home use. It is known from documents that the products were widely distributed at the end of the Edo period.

The “Yamaya Kosho” (Yamaya Old Document), in which the names of products related to Katsuyama bamboo crafts appear, is said to have been written in 1860, the end of the Edo period, making this the earliest confirmed origin. As the name suggests, the ozo-uke is a colander with a large capacity, and was made to measure about 1 Sho (volume measurement) of rice, wheat, or other grains. It was convenient to carry and very useful for measuring grains.

On the other hand, mizo-uke was mainly used to carry daikon radishes, potatoes, burdocks, etc. as a vegetable container. It is said that in the Edo period, households stored cooked rice in “Iiagezo-uke” and hung them in front of the eaves of the house to prevent damage to the rice.

Thus, Katsuyama bamboo “soke” were in high demand as kitchen utensils, and were made in different capacities for different family members. The name “Souke” made by Katsuyama Bamboo Crafts is also found in a petition written by a liquor store in 1877, in the early Meiji period.

The big transition

Even during the tumultuous transition from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji era, tools made of Katsuyama bamboo supported people’s daily lives. It is said that some people even invited bamboo craftsmen to their homes to make a batch of Souke for them. The craftsmen, who stayed overnight and worked for several days, would weave a year’s worth of bamboo baskets and colanders for the family’s use all at once.

Katsuyama bamboo crafts were well known for their durability and ease of use, and soon spread from the Maniwa area to the entire Chugoku region and then to the rest of Japan. In 1979, Katsuyama Bamboo Craft was designated as a traditional Japanese craft in recognition of its solid tradition of handcraftsmanship.

 Manufacturing Process

1. Cutting and Bamboo Washing

In Katsuyama bamboo crafts, the selection of bamboo is very important because the raw material, madake bamboo, is used to make products with as little processing as possible. After growing for about one year, bamboo does not change in thickness or height. What changes with age are the color and hardness, and the most suitable bamboo for bamboo crafts are those that are three to five years old.

The amount of bamboo needed to make a year’s worth of products is cut from November to December, the best time to cut high quality bamboo that is less susceptible to insect damage. A bamboo saw is used to cut the bamboo. The bamboo is scrubbed with a scrubbing brush to remove dirt before being worked.

2. Bamboo splitting

Bamboo splitting is the process of splitting the bamboo into pieces according to the size of the product. This is the most difficult part of the process, and it is said that it usually takes two to three years to master the process of splitting bamboo. First, using a special bamboo hatchet, the bamboo is roughly split into two pieces, each about 1 to 5 meters in length. Then, the bamboo is split into smaller pieces using a sharp machete.

The sharpness of the machete is also important, as it affects the luster of the product. The bamboo cut into thin strips during the kowari process is used for the bones and edges of the finished product. At the same time, thin sticks called “higo,” which are made by splitting the bamboo down to a few millimeters, are produced to give the product strength. The “higo” is produced through a process called “hechiri,” in which the thickness is adjusted to suit the intended use.

3. Weaving

The basic weaving method of Katsuyama bamboo crafts is called “Gozame-weaving”. The blue part of the bamboo and the white part of the bamboo are woven alternately to create a simple yet tasteful look. The first step in the weaving process is “shikake,” in which the frame is determined based on the dimensions traditionally used. Once the frame has been determined, the strands are threaded vertically to fit the frame, and the bones are threaded horizontally.

The next step is “nakagumi,” which is the process of threading the frame through the frame. In this process, beautiful patterns are created by the craftsman’s handiwork. After the product is woven, the edges are finished using locally harvested tsujurafuji (a type of Japanese knotweed). Only products made with kudzu are designated as traditional handicrafts by the government, while those with the edge finished with wire are regular handicrafts.

4. Completion

Most of the process is done by hand by craftsmen to complete Katsuyama Bamboo Craft products.

katsuyama bamboo craft
Source: Furusato-okoshi project/ JR east Japan

Summary

Katsuyama Bamboo Crafts is fascinated by the beauty of green bamboo and its “gozame” weave. 3- to 5-year-old local madake bamboo is split with a machete, and the thickness of the bamboo is adjusted to create a bamboo ladder. It is said that it takes “3 years to split the bamboo and 5 years to take the bamboo strips off,” and the delicacy of the handiwork shines through.

 

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