This past Saturday, Caitlyn and I went to the Tokiwa department store in Beppu to check out the graduating works exhibition held by this year's Bamboo Craft Center trainees. We were greeted by the school's teachers and many of the trainees who were there to give demonstrations and promote their work (all wearing yellow jumpers).
All together there were four tables set up. One table displayed baskets that all the trainees were assigned throughout the year to get them to acquire basic basket-making skills. (In the picture below, baskets are arranged in the order they were assigned, with the first assignment being on the far end of the table, and the last assignment closest to the camera.) I believe these baskets are the ones that I myself will learn to make in the coming year.
On the three remaining tables were exhibited the final assignments, in which the trainees were asked to design and then make their own individual baskets. There was obviously a greater range of expression--and a greater degree of risk taking--going on with these baskets; as you can see in the photo there are more shapes and sizes.
According to one of the teachers, sale contracts for all but one of the baskets were completed within the first fifteen minutes the morning they started the exhibition. Selling prices started at about 1,600 yen (about 15 US dollars) for one of the simpler baskets, and went up to 20,000-30,000 yen ($200-300) for the larger, more intricate baskets---a complete shock to me since many of them took a month or more to make. Certainly many of these could have been sold for a higher price in the US, and it made me wonder why, if they sold them so quickly, they didn't attach a higher price here in Beppu (perhaps it has something to do with the school being tax-funded).
In the demonstration corner, a man named Suzuki-san showed us how the bamboo trunk is split and fashioned into strips that make up baskets. He also showed us how easily his hands bleed from being lashed by the bamboo's sharp edges in the process. By the time Caitlyn and I left, his right hand was covered in tape and bandages. Supposedly, trainees are allowed to wear gloves for the first month of training, but after that no such mercy is shown. One girl we spoke with showed us the scars on her chin, sustained when she was whipped while trying to bend longer strips. "We're aiming to be craftsmen," Suzuki said. "No one doesn't get cut." All the more for me to look forward to when classes start in April!