The Delicate and Graceful World of Kyoto Bamboo Craft
Lovely Lace-Like Bamboo Craftwork
Traditional bamboo craft, supple and tough, has been part of people’s lives in Japan since prehistoric times. Kyoto-based artist Ogura Chiemi continues the tradition while infusing a modern sense into her creations.
Ogura says as an artist she was drawn to bamboo for its environmental friendliness. Unlike other natural materials such as wood, bamboo grows quickly, reaching about 15 meters in 60 days, and can be harvested with minimal disturbance to the surrounding environment.
Traditional bamboo craft spans a broad number of genres, including musical instruments and bamboo armaments. Ogura focuses on braiding thinly sliced strands of bamboo. Traditionally, farmers around Kyoto would collect bamboo and create elegantly woven baskets in the off season. These were used in such disciplines as the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, and there are now more than 100 ways of braiding.
Ogura’s specialty is creating delicate hexagonal patterns called mutsume ami that was commonly used for farming items like baskets. Similar to lace embroidery, she uses a thin bamboo thread to create delicate floral patterns resembling peonies and chrysanthemums.
“I’ve loved flowers and plants from a young age,” she explains. “I like to infuse the gentle and delicate feeling of nature into my designs.” This requires a considerable amount of skills and concentration, however, as the shape and impression of a piece can change dramatically if a stitch is off by even a single millimeter. While braiding, Ogura says she uses deep breathing techniques to help her focus.
Ogura says she is motivated by a desire to “convey to people the traditional beauty of bamboo crafts.” With the help and advice of other designers she has learned to make bangles and rings that have since made her name widely known.
Modern with sophisticated shapes and colors, the beauty of precisely woven bamboo is eye-catching. Natural peony, laurel tree, and pine tree motifs show Ogura’s love of nature.
Ogura has also collaborated with a female ceramic artist in Kyoto on a novel work that fuses porcelain with bamboo to create an elegant representation of a chrysanthemum blossom. The vibrant sensitivities of the two women and their delicate techniques unique to Kyoto produce a stunning piece.
Each Strand Made with Care
Ogura says she prefers to work with young bamboo rather than mature plants.
To make thin strands Ogura starts by cutting a piece of bamboo with a wide-blade knife. By cutting parallel to the vertically running fibers of the plant she is able to easily split the hollow bamboo into smaller pieces.
Bamboo from Kyoto and surrounding areas is in high demand, and Ogura uses different varieties depending on the type of piece.
When working with green bamboo Ogura cuts the bamboo into increasingly finer strands, strips off the outer green skin, and then smooths the edges and sides until all pieces are of uniform thickness. Only once this laborious process is complete is Ogura ready to form the strips into delicate patterns and shapes.
Ogura, who has been independently creating bamboo art for the past nine years, has won critical acclaim for her original works. From May to July of this year her pieces were on display as part of an exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon.
Ogura states that while working it is important for her to keep her mind on the task at hand. “When I’m making a piece, sometimes my indecision or impatience will show itself in my work. I have to keep my mind on track and not think about unnecessary things. I have to live in the moment, like a flower blooming in a field. This is the feeling I hope to foster as I continue to pursue my work.”
Kyoto Bamboo Basket Flower Heart
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(Originally published in Japanese on June 28, 2018. Reporting and text by Yamaguchi Noriko. Photographs by Yamazaki Yoshinori, unless otherwise noted.)