Takezaiku (竹細工) is the Japanese word for bambooworks. Most often, it is used to indicate the craft of interweaving bamboo strips to create objects of daily use, addressed using the same word. In more technical terms, the weaving craft is called takeami (竹編, lit. "bamboo weaving"), although this definition is not as widely known as the more generic takezaiku.
The craft of using bamboo to create objects is common in Asia. The high versatility of bamboo has allowed artisans in the Continent to apply and develop techniques that see bamboo strips as the main or only material used to create objects with a vast range of uses. Nowadays, it is common to see objects of several kinds made using the takezaiku techniques: from low-cost craft items for daily use, to artistic objects for display or special use.
Takezaiku, in its wider meaning, is intertwined with Japanese culture. Applied in numerous fields (arts, crafts, martial arts, everyday life, tools...), it appears in several paintings and poems.
Although takezaiku objects are commonly crafted all throughout Japan, the techniques were traditionally developed in separate ways in different areas of the country, prompted by regional tastes, local bamboo species available, and specific requests. In some cases, outstanding artisans contributed to the growth of local styles that are now known and adopted anywhere in the country.
Bamboo sudare screens
Osaka Takezaiku is especially known for the sudare screens, a type of blinds made of thin bamboo sticks. During the warmer seasons, the sudare screens are used to protect a room from insects and mildly filter the natural light and humidity, while also letting the wind run through the rooms.
Sudare screens are also used in winter, as screens to separate rooms, or areas in the same room.
Edo Wazao (fishing rods) and artistic baskets
The takezaiku from around Tokyo is traditionally known for the Japanese traditional fishing rods, called wazao (和竿).
Many artistic baskets are also made in the area, although this may be easily attributed to the dense population of the region, rather than traditions.
Beppu Takezaiku (daily-use baskets)
Beppu, on the Kyūshū island, is where many objects for daily use are traditionally handmade using the takeami (bamboo weaving) techniques. Such objects include baskets, containers, bags, vases, strainers and other kitchenware. Generally, any item made in Beppu owns to traditions, and is crafted with extreme care to details, resulting in long-lasting beautiful objects.
The high skills of local artisans have also generated a large number of artistic objects, many of which achieved international recognition.
For more detailed information on Beppu Takezaiku and Japanese bambooworks in general: Beppu Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center.
Katsuyama Takezaiku (functional baskets)
Owning to the demands of local farmers for solid and simple tools to carry out daily tasks, Katsuyama has become known for the variety of objects characterized by simplicity of use, practicality and high durability. Baskets and boxes for the collection, carrying, storage and basic processing of harvest come in the hundreds of shapes and sizes, all made using local bamboo (called madake), along with other, more modern items that may find a place in any contemporary house.
Katsuyama Takezaiku is also characterized by the use of green bamboo, barely processed, which holds the unique scent and looks of the living plant.
Chasen (tea whisk)
The takezaiku from Takayama is most known for the chasen（茶筅, whisk used to stir matcha tea during the tea ceremony).
The highly specific requests of tea masters (starting from Sen no Rikyū, in the 16th century) led to the creation of high-quality items characterized by their simple looks, hiding the incredible skills required to craft them. The chasen is a great example of that approach: looking like a simple whisk or brush at first, it is crafted following strict rules that dictate shape, size, rigidity and number of spikes. Each factor, when changed, has different effects on how quickly the foam is formed on the matcha, its thickness and mouthfeel. Artisans in Takayama found a way to put their skills to use without showing off, creating tea ceremony tools that appear simple if not raw, but reveal extreme care when examined closely.
Currently, Takayama is estimated to be the manufacturing area of 90% of the chasen whisks present in Japan.
Extremely thin strips
Although the weaving techniques used and the items crafted do not differ much from the traditional takezaiku, Suruga bambooworks are known for the especially thin strips, which may have a diameter of down to 0.8 mm (0.03 in). This allows the crafting of objects that position themselves one step above average takeami items.
The full naming of the local takezaiku, "Suruga take sensuji zaiku" (駿河竹千筋細工, lit. "Craft of a thousand bamboo lines from Suruga"), refers to the fact that the bamboo strips made in Suruga are so thin, a thousand of them would fit into the size of a tatami mat.
Another characteristic of the bamboo strips used in Suruga takezaiku is their shape: instead of having a flat profile, these strips are rounded.
This page (in Japanese) features pictures that show the unique techniques used to make Suruga Takezaiku.
Although far from being an item of daily use, bamboo bows from Miyazaki (Kyūshū) are an extremely important type of takezaiku. These bows, officially known as Miyako no Jō Dai Kyū (都城大弓), are the type used in the martial art Kyūdō (弓道, Japanese archery).
Depending on the properties of a given piece, artisans will turn bamboo sticks into a bow through a number of stages that may go from 200 to 300. It is said that this is the reason why it takes an individual more than 10 years to become a bow artisan, which makes it a very difficult craft to take up. Currently, only 8 artisans in the whole country are officially recognized as traditional artisans of Miyazaki bamboo bows.
This video shows but one of the several stages in the making of a bow.
Although bambooworks are historically present in most of Asia, the oldest sign of its existence in Japan is found in artifacts from the 1st century AD. It is likely that the craft, intended as a systematic way of crafting objects out of bamboo, was introduced by Buddhist monks from China, where some of the oldest bambooworks can be traced back to the Neolithic.
Since the naming only refers to bambooworks, there are no rules as to what may be referred to as "Takezaiku", as long as an object is made using solely or mostly bamboo. However, the craft traditionally referred to by such naming, registered and recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, requires an item to be handmade using traditional techniques, manual tools, and human-operated machines.
An authentic Takezaiku item is handmade in Japan using Japanese bamboo.
Additionally, the cultural charge of a Takezaiku object is determined by a few main factors that may be objectively verified:
- the aesthetic value (is its shape well-balanced? Are all parts in harmony? Does it look stable? Does the material look obtained from healthy bamboo?)
- the number of bamboo strips (the more, the higher the value)
- the thickness of each strip (the thinner, the higher the value)
- the precision (are all strips well woven? Are spaces between strips equal?)
The overall size of the object, despite determining a higher cost, does not affect its price in relative terms. This means that, although a very large Takezaiku item may cost more than a smaller one, its higher price might be determined solely by the larger quantity of material used to manufacture it. Close examination is recommended to determine whether the item you are looking at is an authentic, high-quality Takezaiku.
Did you know?
• Usually, and excluding bamboo bows from Miyazaki, up to 16 stages are necessary for bamboo to be turned into a Takezaiku object. These stages may include cutting, splitting and slicing, peeling, soaking or boiling, shaping, weaving, and assemblying.
• There are hundreds of weaving techniques used in Takeami. Most sources seem to agree on 6 to 8 original techniques, on which patterns are based to obtain a total of more than 200 different effects.
The image below includes the 8 patterns at the base of Beppu Takezaiku, a style recognized as "designated traditional craft product". Also, the page at this link shows prints of several dozen patterns obtained by interweaving bamboo strips.
• Some craftspeople collaborate with other artisans and artists to create objects of superior beauty and charm. An example is highly-skilled craftswoman Chiemi Ogura's stunningly beautiful vases (shown below), born from her collaboration with pottery artist Yukiko Asano–also known as Sometsuke Hanada. Ogura's bamboo strips are skillfully woven using the holes that the vases have at their top.