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Japanese Bamboo Basketry Art | Suruga Guild

Watch: Poetry of Form - Suruga Bamboo Basketry

Tiny bamboo strips crisscross, 
Forming graceful curves, 
Framing diamond spaces, 
Through which a morning's light
Sweeps gently through

The amazing, artistic features of Suruga Bamboo Basketry of Shizuoka, Japan.

Suruga - Contemporary, Timeless

Autumn-Basket-Suruga-Bamboo-Handcrafted-Japan

What seems to strike many art enthusiasts about much of Japanese bamboo basketry, is it's lasting appeal across time. Whether used for ikebana flower arranging, or appreciated as decorative art, its flowing forms are contemporary... and yet its roots reach far back.  Suruga Basketry is no exception.

In Shizuoka, home to Suruga Bamboo Basketry Guildremnants of basketry were found dating to Yayoi period (300 BC-250 AD).  Other fine samples of Suruga Bamboo Basketry trace back to 1607, Edo Period, with the arrival of the Shogunate, Tokugawa, to Suruga Province (now Shizuoka). Fine, quality bamboo thrived in the Abe River basin of the Shizuoka and in the mild, wet climate. It was in this time, that the craft took off and the unique features of Suruga style were born. 

Starting With the Samurai

Beetle Bug Cage Suruga Bamboo Basketry at Alfan Select

In those early Edo times, the samurai took up the bamboo weaving craft to supplement their income (2). From baskets and confectionery containers to graceful cages for birds and beetle bugs (photo), they developed a latticework style of rhythm and flow that became Suruga Basketry. And, as time went on, more artisans flocked to the area and soon the bamboo craft flourished.

Perhaps it is the use of organic materials -  in part - that has led to this craft's longevity: bamboo tends to retain the look and feel of nature and even take on an added aesthetic appeal (wabi-sabi) that comes with age.  

Suruga Basketry Deep Forest Bamboo Vase Japan

From these beginnings, Suruga Bamboo Craft Guild artists have been creating fine decorative bamboo crafts for contemporary appeal. In 1976, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry formally designated Suruga Bamboo Basketry as a National Traditional Craft of Japan.

Why is Suruga Bamboo Basketry Unique?

Japanese Bamboo Craftsman Weaving Vase

What sets Suruga Bamboo Basketry style apart from much of Japan's other basketry has a lot to do with the bamboo strips themselves.  Unlike many other Japanese basketry styles which use flat strips, Suruga Basketry is hailed for its weaves of exceptionally thin, rounded strips of madake and moso-chiku bamboo that grows abundantly in the region. These bamboo varieties are very suitable for crafts: easy to split, very flexible and tough. It is these qualities as well, that allow the craftsperson to create the timeless open-weave, airy and contemporary style.  Though a seemingly simple form, the process takes considerable time, effort and requires skill and mature craftmanship.  The thin strands must be preciously cut and shaved multiple times as this will effect the final aesthetic beauty, the curves, the overall balance of the basket or vase.  Read on to learn more about this process and/or watch the following video.

The Making of Suruga Basketry Art

One of our craft artists during her apprenticeship of Suruga style.

The Bamboo

Close up of Madake Bamboo Bark Used in Craft Arts Japan

The distinctive basketry style of Suruga starts with the bamboo material grown in the region. The bamboo used  for this collection are mostly of madake and or mosochiku. Once harvested, the bamboo plant is first cut with a saw, boiled in water to remove the oil and then dried in the sun.  Once dried, the outer layer is shaved, and the bamboo is spit into thinner lengths and then again shaved and thinned.  


Round Strips

Metal Drawplate for Bamboo Strips in Making Suruga Bamboo Basketry

To form the rounded strips, the craftsperson now pulls numerous bamboo strips, one by one and over and over, through a metal drawplate of round holes that get progressively smaller. The final strips will become so thin, in fact, they can measure as little as 0.8 mm in diameter! The strips must be precise; any warping, or damage to any strip can cause the bamboo to snap or create a warped form in the final product. 

The Final Steps

To finish, the strips are gathered up in small groups and of twenty to thirty bamboo strips at the same time and then pressed against a heated rounded metal plate. By grouping them together, all the strips will have the exact same shape. And by heating the bamboo becomes flexible allowing the craftsperson to gently coerce and encourage the bamboo strands, one by one, into graceful, gentle curves, soft shapes and airy, open weaves of the final form that defines the skill and artistry of Suruga artistic style. This weave draws out the natural, enduring beauty of the bamboo materialThe techniques involved take considerable time to perfect and crafts men and women can apprentice up to ten years to acquire the skills developing deep appreciation for bamboo and the craft.  As one young apprentice, E. Omura noted,  "I want to people to feel the softness of the bamboo, its warmth."

From Bamboo to Basketry

Japan Madake Bamboo Forest Basketry Material

It may come as a surprise, but bamboo is a primitive grass not a tree! Abundant and varied it grows well in Japan. And the grace and beauty of the more than 600 species of bamboo in this country have been inspiring craftsmanship, art and innovation for centuries.  This photo is of a forest of a type of bamboo, madake, often used in Suruga bamboo weaving. It can reach a height of 20m with a diameter of 10cm. It can also grow up to 1 meter (40 inches) in a day!

A Japanese Art Born of Tradition

Japanese Bamboo Ikebana Flower Vase and Decorative Art by Yamamoto early Twentieth Century With such an abundance of beautiful raw material, it not surprising how much bamboo basketry is a part of Japanese life.  Japanese bamboo basketry  - formally designated a traditional craft of Japan - has endured through time becoming known to the Western world in the late 1800's. The photo here is a bamboo flower basket by Master C. Yamamoto (early 20th century).  The basketry craft requires many years of mastery, with skills often passed between generations and in Japan is considered an art form of many practical uses as well: basketry is found in everyday life of the past, and the present with  baskets to hold vegetables, strainers to wash fruits, vases for ikebana flower arranging, and to keep little bugs for summer fun.  

Today's craft artist still produce many works of traditional style. As Nancy Moore Bess, author of the book Bamboo in Japan (1), notes "craftspeople continue to create a never-ending variety of beautiful and complex baskets that reflect their uses in earlier times."(1, pg. 60). Yet at the same time, the unique strength, flexibility and versatility of the bamboo coupled with the creativity of a bamboo craft artist, also allows the craft to progress with the times as well with some artists creating modern, unique forms with bamboo - abstract shapes with elegant beauty. 

 Contemporary Form Japanese Bamboo Weaving Latticework LightElegantly designed, precisely woven, gracefully shaped, Japanese bamboo basketry is an art that can be described as poetry of form!

 

References:

(1) Bamboo in Japan, Nancy Moore Bess, Kodansha International, Tokyo, 2001.
(2) Japanese Crafts, The Japan Craft Forum, Kodanshi International, Tokyo, 2001.