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.
When most rooms in Japanese houses had tatami floors, an easy daily cleanup was done with broom and dustpan. Sweeping removed dust quickly and was a simple activity that kept everyday life clean.
Such scenes are seen less and less often these days, but is this a good thing, even though our lifestyles are getting more diverse? Just to clean up a small space, we have to pull out a vacuum cleaner, use it for a short period, then put it back.
Bearing this in mind, why don't you keep a broom and 'harimi' (paper dustpan) in your room? A harimi is made from Japanese paper coated with persimmon tannin, and the size is about 20cm. The color of a harimi is appropriate and it will fit in with any kind of room. The size is quite small and it does not appear jarring.
Daily tools like a harimi look wonderful, even when left lying around in a room. Moreover, a harimi is very useful when used with a small broom for little spaces such as desktops and shelves.
A Houki is a broom traditionally used in Japan for sweeping trash and dust. There are two kinds of houki: zashiki-bouki (room broom) and niwa-bouki (garden broom), depending on where they are to be used.
Zashiki-bouki are generally made from hemp palm fibers and morokoshi ( millet- a kind of grain) fibers . The hemp-palm broom is more widely used in Western Japan and it is made from gathered “oni-ge” (demon hairs) which are extracted from hemp palm bark. The morokoshi plants used to make houki are harvested after growing for one year when they are about 2 meters high. The ears of the millet plants are threshed and dried in the sun for about a week. Then, high quality ears are selected and gathered for making houki.
Besides their obvious practical application as a cleaning tool, houki also figure in various traditional customs associated with the idea of “sweeping away”.
There was a spell in which a houki was stood upside down when a host wished his guest to cut his long stay short and go home. In some areas, a houki was considered a guardian charm for the easy and healthy delivery of a baby. The houki was placed by the bedside of the pregnant woman and, once labor started, a light was attached to the houki and the woman prayed to it. Her belly was then caressed with the houki.
Houki were believed to be sacred and stepping it over or on them was avoided as it would incur divine punishment. Such customs still can be seen today all over Japan.
In common with 婦, the basic character of 掃 is 帚. The 扌 hand classifier was only added considerably later. The first form in the tortoise plastron and bone characters is extremely simple; it clearly is just the form of a 箒 ‘hôki: broom.’ As the tortoise plastron and bone characters were created by a group of ancient clerics the cleaning this character originally refers to should be imagined as a sacred act or duty. It was humbly conducted in the mausoleum for worshiping the ancestors. Besides using the broom for sweeping as is done in the present, it was established etiquette to sprinkle well-smelling liquor with the broom for exorcising and purifying the mausoleum. It may be compared to the present burning of incense for the ancestors.
The upper part of the unabbreviated character 帚 shows a hand, and the middle line extending to the right shows the part of the hand including the joint which is especially important when sweeping. In the shortened character form of the Common Use Character, however, nearly only the fingers remain. 帚 also appears in 歸, the older character of 帰 ‘kaeru: return.’ It shows military returning from war at the ritual of reporting at the mausoleum bringing worship meat. At this time, there also was the custom of exorcising and purifying the mausoleum with a broom and liquor.
Walking on stilts was an activity that began in China. It came to Japan during the Heian period.
Stilt-walking is a game that uses sticks of bamboo with some kind of peg as foothold. There are two types of stilt-walking. The first one, which was enjoyed by children in China, was a game using one bamboo like a witch's broom. The other type is the famous one, which is enjoyed by Japanese children.
Even today, children enjoy the common form of stilt-walking, using two sticks with footholds. It is said that stilt-walking is good for training muscles and to get a sense of balance.
Nowadays, there are stilt-walking competitions held as sports, and the activity is beloved by many people.