Monthly Archives: September 2011

Ohashi-san wove using the Kikkō pattern mainly because he could see how it resonated within my own work.

The most important step was the set out of the first strands of bamboo because it would affect the rest of the weaving.

Half way through Ohashi asked me to take over from him and with his guidance I kept weaving. We folded the ends into the weaving to complete the form and snipped them off. Ohashi-san applied heat to stiffen the bamboo and therefore keep its form. Beautiful.

Platform 07

It had been a very hot day with Typhoon 12 on its way. We relaxed and prepared for our special celebration at Hit Parade, a local Karaoke bar!

We spent Day 03 at Platform 07 with Ohashi-san and my special interpreter for the day, Junko. Ohashi–san spoke about his large-scale installations and community projects.

Cocoon of Dreams installation by Ohashi-san at Yufuin Station (JR Kyusyu)

We resumed the process of preparing the strips for weaving. I asked Ohashi if he felt he was connected to the bamboo through his work. Ohashi explained his connection was like breathing. He cannot go without it he is not separate from the bamboo and the bamboo is not separate from him. They are one. He asked me to prepare some of the strips as he had shown me. It was a delicate feeling. If I pulled the bamboo hard it would be hard and get stuck so it was with a soft smooth constant action that I felt and achieved the balance.

A special group of delegates visited Platform 07 to meet with us. They included Sakamoto Noriko (Beppu Project Public Relations), Kosuke Murayama (The Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities), and Hiroko Ohtsuki (Museum Education and President for IDEA Inc.) My interpreter Junko Abe organized the visit. Junko was in fact The Cultural and International Affairs Officer for The Beppu City Hall.

Special delegates visit Platform 07

We returned to central Beppu after our magical encounter with Hajime Nakatomi.

The Beppu City Council is extremely active in their encouragement of creative art, craft and design. They have set up a number of Platforms or spaces within the city for traditional and contemporary (local, national and international) artists to occupy in their different ways (Platform 02). The aim is for people to encounter art from three disciplines (art, dance and architecture) in everyday life. They have spaces to allow the dialogue between artisans and the community, as well as the promotion of work created through the Platform Project and Beppu Project. So there is a Cafe (Platform 03), Art/Book Store (Platform 04) and general exhibition/workshop/discussion/presentation spaces.

The special place for Bamboo Weaving and Bamboo Art is Platform 07 and that is where we were headed.

Platform 07: The Bamboo Weaving Space in Beppu City centre
Beppu Bamboo Weavers and Artists at work

We had a cool lemonade, discussed the morning in the mountains, and then Ohashi-san prepared some bamboo for Day 03.

Starting with lengths of whole bamboo Ohashi-san cuts them into strips…
…and then finer and finer strips

When the strips are at the desired thickness for the specific object to be made, they are soaked in water overnight.

Day 02 was a GREAT DAY!!!

Ohashi-san and Naoko, my interpreter for the day, picked me up in the van and we headed into the mountains behind Beppu.

We drove up the mountain past rice paddies, bamboo groves and pine forests.

We were going to visit Hajime Nakatomi in Yufu: one of Ohashi-san’s fellow Bamboo Artists and members of BAICA. Ohashi-san founded BAICA naming it after the Bungo Plum Blossum, the Prefecture Flower of Oita. The flower has five petals and the group is to have five members. Ohashi-san explains that there are presently four members and they are looking for the fifth. The day Ohashi-san was deliberating on forming the group the Plum blossoms were flowering in a brilliant red-pink haze. BAICA is an experimental group of young bamboo weavers. It is a platform to strengthen their artistic practices, encourage through the journey and develop together.

We arrive at Injojo Temple: an abandoned temple that is Nakatomi-san’s studio.

I am speechless. Nakatomi-san greets us and we are welcomed into the studio. Nakatomi-san makes both traditional craft and experimental works. Both are technically complex and demand perfection: both are very different, but the result is the same; calm, seemingly effortless with visual harmony. His dedication to each step and facet of his practice coupled with his modesty move me. It is little wonder (I find out later) that his works have been exhibited throughout Japan, New York, London and Italy.

Nakatomi-san with his exquisite traditional works
The bamboo store
< Traditional box with intricate Ajiro weave. Central: Experimental weaving. Contemporary works >

We discuss what makes a work traditional or contemporary and Nakatomi-san explains there are particular sets of rules for traditional works to follow; for example:

– The function of the object and the weave pattern follow traditions and align

– The top and ends must be ‘finished’ or woven back into the weaving so that they are hidden

– The forms that the object takes follow traditions

One of the contemporary works has weaving specifically used for eel traps. It’s a traditional but very natural flowing weave to conceal the trap in the water. Nakatomi has used it here for a vessel, distorting the form through the tensions of the weave and leaving the ends unfinished.

Front: Eel trap weaving used in Contemporary vessel. Background: Sculptural constructions

For me Nakatomi-san’s more sculptural constructions (Prism and Natural Prism series) capture a moment. They articulate the space of space. They are at home here in the temple.

Beautiful work of beautiful people in a beautiful place.

View Hajime Nakatomi’s works at his website.

After lunch Ohashi-san took us to his personal studio. It was a hot day and the cicadas were out in force. We shared a cool lemonade and played with one of BAICA’s projects Tenta, designed by Kosei Shirotani and Fumi Hasegawa.

Tenta is a very cool construction toy using triangular sets of bamboo pieces that fit together to create all sorts of constructions. I love!!! Image courtesy of

BAICA is a collaboration of young bamboo craftsmen and women, promoting the work of younger generations. Ohashi-san is an active member of BAICA. After the break Ohashi-san prepared to weave. He had soaked some prepared bamboo overnight to make it flexible. Ohashi-san moved and worked so quickly and skillfully it was difficult to photograph and keep up with the process unfolding before me.

Ohashi-san splitting the bamboo
Weaving the base after the bamboo splints have been thicknessed
The form that the basket would take
The finished basket

Before our eyes Ohashi-san had made a beautiful basket. There was a moment when Ayako thought I could understand Japanese. I was repeating everything Ohashi-san was saying before she could translate. It was that special connection and language between makers I thought.

I met Mr Ohashi and my interpreter for the day, the lovely Ayako, and after some introductions we headed off for the day.

Our first stop was the Traditional Bamboo Craft Centre, Beppu.

Ohashi-san would give a personal insight into the long tradition of bamboo weaving (Take-zaiku) in Beppu. At the Traditional Bamboo Craft Centre were historical and contemporary examples of weaving in everyday objects including lampshades, sieves, fish traps, flower vases and baskets for carrying all manner of things. There were so many weaving types. They included pine needle, octagonal, reticulated, chrysanthemum bottom, rinko and hexagonal weaving patterns. Unfortunately photography was not permitted in the exhibition.

Ohashi-san explained that each bamboo variety has slightly different qualities that lend themselves to the making of certain objects. Bamboo varieties on display included:

–  Kurochiku (black bamboo, scrolls, fences, decoration)

–  Hachiku (light coloured bamboo used for tea whisk)

–  Gomadake (speckled bamboo)

Beppu artisans use madake bamboo. Madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides) is one of the three most important and widely used types of bamboo in Japan, especially for Traditional Japanese Craft. (The other ones are moso and hotchiku). Madake grows large and is so widely used because of the quality and straightness of the culm (stem) and the smoothness of its nodes (horizontal rings).

There was a special dedicated area for the work by bamboo master artisans including the first National Living Treasure in Bamboo Craft, Shounsai Shono (1904-1974) and apprentices he mentored including Ryuun Yamaguchi and Nobuyuki Tanabe.

The work of Nobuyuki Tanabe

Here were examples that showed the shift of Bamboo craft from the everyday to the level of art (Mingei movement or ‘the art of people’). We spent some time with the works as they were so intricate, the variety of colour, weave and designs numerous and I had so many questions for Ohashi-san.

The upstairs area of the Centre is dedicated to teaching the craft. We saw a class in progess.

Truly inspired we headed out into Beppu for lunch. The lovely Mr Shigeomi Ohashi at lunch.

I arrived in Beppu late in the evening on Monday the 29 August 2011. It was a dash from Hakone-Yamoto Station back to Tokyo to catch my flight from Hanaeda Airport to Oita Airport. Beppu, Oita Prefecture, is south of Fukuoka and on the eastern shore of Kyushu Island.

Looking to Beppu Bay
Mountains that bound Beppu

Beppu rests on a bay and is bounded by mountains to the west. It is especially well known for its hot springs. During my time in Beppu I came to understand that Beppu’s hot springs are its life force; they run through its streets and form an integral part of everyday Beppu life.

Takegawara Onsen; one of Beppu’s oldest offering a very hot uchiburo or the more unusual sand baths. 
Little Onsen offering

There is a long history of people visiting the hot springs to relax and be healed (especially at the Yufuin hot springs). Early on there were very basic ways of living at these retreats. The people who visited needed cooking tools and so started making these out of the bamboo that was plentiful in the area. The steam from the springs was used to bend, shape and soften the bamboo once prepared. As people returned home they took with them the things they had made from bamboo. More people visited and more items were made. Through word of mouth the demand for bamboo craft increased and more craftsmen then visited and stayed to learn the craft, and imbue their own skill and knowledge.

The knowledge has been passed down through generations; both to newcomers and from craftsmen to their own children. In this way the tradition of bamboo weaving in the area has developed and been transformed into an art form. I had come to Beppu to meet with esteemed Bamboo Weaver and Installation Artist, Shigeomi Ohashi.

My time in Beppu with Ohashi was kindly arranged by my dear friend and fellow designer Fukutoshi Ueno.

The Asanoha pattern is one of the most popular traditional patterns often seen on Japanese kimono.  Asanoha means: Asa = hemp: no = of: ha = leaf. The regular geometric pattern, though abstract, represents overlapping hemp leaves.

As a geometric motif asanoha has ‘no season’ so it can be worn throughout the year.

Asanoha can be combined with other seasonal motifs including ume and kikko, or feature as the primary element of the design. In ancient Japan, hemp, along with ramie, linden, elm, wisteria and mulberry, were used for making clothing, fibers and paper.

Kei with hemp fibre
fibre, spindle and waste hemp used to weave rougher fabrics

The wives of merchants would wear it, to bring good fortune to the wearer. Because hemp was known for its rapid growth, the pattern was often used for clothes of newborn children.

“…[p]arents hoped that infants wearing it would develop with the vigor and toughness of the hemp plant.” The Book of Japanese Design, Kyusaburo Kaiyama.

6 x diamond construction of asanoha…patterns within patterns within patterns…

Special thanks to Kei of Gallery Kei, Kyoto, who was able to show me the different forms of hemp, ramie and linden fibre as well as the traditional techniques, weavings and fabrics. And a big thank you to Carl for helping me to post blogs again while I am in China!

Yes I am in Beijing now on my way to Shanghai! So much to share about these amazing places!

The mountain area of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture is well known for its diverse variety of trees. Hakone Yosegi-Zaiku uses these rich woods to produce complex geometric patterns. Yosegi-Zaiku means yose = collect, put together; gi = wood (to make) zai = small, sensitive: ku = work.

Thin wood pieces are combined as a surface, or assembled using solid wood to form the patterns. The pieces are glued together into basic units and then cut and placed together to make a continuous pattern. Many different types of functional and decorative objects are made using this technique including boxes, vessels and drawers. The ones I find intriguing are the vessels made using solid wood lengths turned to reveal the pattern of the wood.

Yosegi dates from the 18th Century but was only designated as a traditional Japanese craft in 1984 in the areas of Odawara and Hakone. Different woods are placed adjacent to each other to give the patterns further depth and complexity. Some of these include:

White – aohada, spindle tree, dogwood
Yellow – nigaki, wax tree, lacquer tree
Light brown – Japanese pagoda tree, cherry tree, zelkova tree
Dark Brown – keyaki-jindai
Grey – honoki (magnolia hypoleuca)
Black – katsura-jindai

There are many patterns made alone or in combination and include rokkaku-asanoha (hexagons of hemp leaves), hishi-seigaiha (diamonds resembling the sea and waves) and one of my favourites ran-yosegi (ran = random).