Junichi Takano works as the Store Manager at the Shirakiya Nakamura Denbei Store, an old store established in 1830. Mr. Takano supports Satoru Nakamura, the seventh successor who inherited the name and the store.
Along the side of the Kyoubashi River in Tokyo that is now an expressway there once was, in the Edo Period, a commercial river port called “bamboo river bank” where 50,000 to 60,000 sticks of bamboo were unloaded every day. It was also a trading hub for all sorts of materials used for daily products.
The founder of the Shirakiya Store, Toubei, began making houki brooms from bamboo and houki-morokoshi (millet), and this “Edo-bouki” (as Toubei’s houki are called) has been created in the same traditional way and at the same place since.
Junichi Takano initially came in as a part time delivery boy. He was soon fascinated by the “practical beauty” of Edo-bouki and the work being done by master houki maker Seiichi Takagi. Since then, he fell in love with making houki himself and he has now become an indispensable talent for the store.
A houki, unlike some modern disposable tools, lasts a long time.
The craftsmen, anticipating all the possible ways the houki might be used, give it lightness, firmness and pliancy. The user understands that the houki is a tool to purify a house and as he or she sweeps the tatami mat from inside to outside, he or she “collaborates” with the houki. The relationship established between the user and the tool is a further development of the relationship already established between the craftsman and the craft.
Using fine materials, expert techniques and human ingenuity, as an artist, Mr. Takano takes elaborate efforts to continue to preserve the relationship between human and tool and pass it on to the next generation.
Sando-gasa is a hat woven with bamboo or sedge.
Unlike most other hats that have a triangular pyramid shape, sando-gasa has a thin flat shape that is rounded towards the top and, seen head-on, it looks more like a thick horizontal line.
Sando-gasa is most commonly seen worn by yakuza, or gangsters, in Japanese period dramas. However, it was generally an express foot messenger who wore the hat regularly.
The messengers would travel both ways between Edo (Tokyo), Oosaka and Kyoto three times a month, and thus, were called “sando hikyaku” or three time messengers. The hats they loved were, accordingly, named sando-gasa.
The hat is wide enough to cover a person’s shoulders and can protect sufficiently from rain if the rain is not too hard. It is also very light and was often used by traveling merchants who wanted to avoid any excess weight other than their wares.
Inside, the hat is equipped with a circular head pedestal called atamadai which makes the hat fit quite well on the head.
Sando-gasa is a simple yet well designed hat filled to the brim with ancestral wisdom.
A Chashaku is a spoon-like utensil used to scoop maccha tea powder into a tea bowl.
The chashaku originally came from a metal medicine spoon used in China, which had a potato leaf shaped scoop. The other end of the stem was rounded in order to crush medicine easily.
In the Muromachi period, when the tea ceremony was established, people began to think that metal teaspoons might damage the tea set. They then started to make Chasaku from bamboo.
Upon the ascendance of Sen no Rikyu as the most influential tea master in the Sengoku period, Keishuso first designed a chashaku with a joint for Rikyu. Hochiku, who studied under Keishuso and who became a chashaku artisan for Rikyu, completed the establishment of chakasu design as an art form.
The bamboo most commonly used for chashaku is from the Nigatake bamboo family, especially Sarashitake bamboo.
Chashaku is 17~21cm in length. The end used to scoop tea powder is oval-shaped, 1cm width and 2cm length, and it is bent to make the scoop.
Chashaku is considered to be essential to the traditional tea ceremony and it is as beautiful as it is functional.
Shimekazari is said to come from shimenawa rope which is used in shrines to mark the boundaries of a sacred area.
In welcoming the New Year, it is hung over the front of the house to mark it as a sacred space. It is also used as a lucky charm to prevent misfortune or evil spirits from entering.
In Kyuushuu, especially in the Fukuoka and Miyazaki regions, the crane is often used as a design on shimekazari. Radially spread bundles of straw are positioned to indicate the wings and tail of a crane and the part that represents the beak is often colored in red. In rare cases, shimekazari may also have a turtle design.
Since ancient times, both the crane and the turtle have been valued as animals that bring good fortune and a long life. Their design has been a fixture at celebratory occasions. Pine, bamboo and plum trees as well as treasure ships are also added to the decoration of the shimekazari, combining, strong wishes for both a happy New Year and a long, healthy life.
Obake no Kinta or Kinta the Ghost is a folk toy that originated in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture.
The toy consists of a head with a string in the back of it. When the string is pulled, Kinta rolls his big round eyeballs and sticks out his tongue. A bamboo spring is concealed in his head which, when pulled, triggers the eyes and the tongue to move at the same time. Kinta with his red face and a black conical hat makes a striking impression on small children and he often scares them a little. He is a popular toy among adults, however. The most important process in making this toy is the making of the bamboo spring. The quality of this spring determines the quality of the toy.
When Kato Kiyomasa built the Kumamoto Castle, there was a popular foot soldier named Kinta who had a funny face and who was good at making people laugh. He was affectionately called “Clown Kinta”. The Kinta the Ghost toy was said to have been created during the Kanei era (1848 ~ 1853) by a doll maker, Hikoshichi Nishijinya, who started making mechanical toys based on stories about Kinta. Because of his unique action, Kinta the Ghost was also known as the Goggle-eyed Doll.
Hassaku Festival is a historic festival handed down in the Yabe area in Yamato Town in Kumamoto Prefecture since the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868). Hassaku means the first day of August‚ according to the lunar calendar. This festival is to thank the god of rice paddy and to offer a prayer for rich harvest. This is also the day when farmers make out a schedule for harvesting.
The main event of the festival is the parade of huge creations made by neighborhood teams. Each team works out an elaborate plan and makes the object mainly using natural materials such as bamboo, cedar, pampas grass and palm bark. Collecting materials is a hard job, but everyone is eager to join the making in hope of obtaining the first prize in the contest. A lot of tourists come to see this spectacular display of the creations.
Temari is a traditional Japanese thread ball that was used as a toy ball for children. While playing with the ball, children used to sing a temari song. The most loved of these temari songs was “Antagata dokosa” which came from Higo Temari, traditionally from Kumamoto Prefecture.
Higo Temari, whose beauty is characterized by bright colors and biometric patterns, was first made by the court ladies working in their clan’s palace in Edo, Tokyo, as a pastime. This skill was eventually passed down to their local regions.
Higo Temari, which was traditionally made by local women in Higo region, began disappearing as rubber balls took over the market in the middle of Meiji period. In 1968, Higo Temari Club was founded and began formally preserving the temari making method.
The core of a temari ball is formed with dried sponge cucumber which was cut at an angle. Thin yarn is wrapped over the core, and then thread is randomly wrapped around the outside of the ball which produces a cushioned surface and helps create a perfect spherical shape. French Embroidery threads are applied to decorate the surface which creates superb color schemes and a rich variety in designs.
The Higo Temari song mentions a place called “senba”, which is on the bank of Tsuboi River that was once abundant with small shrimps. Mt. Senba nearby was once inhabited by raccoon dogs and the surrounding area was said to be a dense grove and bamboo thicket.
Karui, made from woven bamboo, is a basket used to carry things on one’s back. They have been used in the Miyazaki Prefecture to carry grains, mushrooms, manure and other things needed for farm work.
The bamboo used to make karui baskets is “madake bamboo”, which grows wild all over Japan. The bamboo used for the body of the basket is woven with six strands and the “masubushi” weave is applied to finish the edge. Karui is a useful item made from all natural materials.
These baskets have an upside-down triangular pyramid shape which doesn’t allow the basket to sit on a flat surface easily. Although the baskets are unstable on level ground, they sit well on steep, mountainous hills. The wisdom of this design was gained from living in deep mountainous regions.
Today, karui are used, not only as baskets for transporting things, but also as interior decorations such as vases, letter holders or newspaper racks. They remain much loved by many people.