Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mutsume Morikago: Part 2

Allow me catch you up on what we've been working on in the last two weeks. After weaving the bottom of the mutsume morikago, we erected the six sides and continued the same weave using four more horizontal higo (called mawashi-higo, 回しヒゴ; meaning "circular higo"), being careful to keep all the holes on each row perfect hexagons. Once the top mawashi-higo was in place we bent all vertical higo located on the outside inward; this secures the top mawashi-higo and finishes the weave. This entire process is done with three relatively thick prong-like pieces (kari-chikara-dake ; 仮力竹; "temporary strength bamboo") inserted in the bottom, used to keep the basket from losing its shape.

From there we moved on to fashioning the parts that would make up the basket's rim. There are three: the outer rim (soto-buchi; 外縁), inner rim (uchi-buchi; 内縁) and a filler piece that fits flushly between the outer and inner rims and hides the end of the higo weaving underneath (masa; 柾) (any one know the technical term for this piece?).

The inner and outer rims we made in the same way as higo, but these were much thicker pieces--2.0 and 2.5 mm--so when it came time to bend them we used what they call a heating jig (himage-jigu, 火曲げ治具). It's basically a tiered, hollow metal tower under whicih a burner is lit. Bamboo apparently bends more easily when it is heated and retains its shape well after it cools, so this seems to be the method of choice for bending thicker bamboo into perfect circles or semi-circles. Our instructor said that back when this contraption wasn't used craftsmen would bend the bamboo around their knee and rub it back and forth to create heat through friction, thus making it more pliable. Still, it would be difficult to bend it into a perfect circle through such a process. I can't imagine how difficult the task was back then. I finished bending all ten of my rims in about 30 minutes.

After molding the rims, the ends of each rim were cut to match the exact circumference of the basket. Next, 7 cm of each end were shaved away so the two ends could overlap each other, forming a closed circle. Both outer and inner rims were adjusted this way, but only the outer rims were glued shut; the outer rim decides the absolute circumference of the basket's rim, while the inner rim is made to expand freely to fit the outer rim. The rims are then clipped temporarily onto the basket so the masa can later be inserted between them.
The masa is fashioned like a higo, but made to be thick so it fills the groove between the two rims. The masa's skin is placed on the outside to match the rims, and it's split down the middle to help make it fit smoothly along the entire circumference. The picture above shows the outer and inner rims clipped temporarily, and the picture below shows the masa fit snuggly between them, this time secured by wire twisted tightly around all three. Notice the two bumps; this is the bamboo's joint. They become staggered because of the difference their circumferences.


  1. Hi! My friend Jiro just made me aware of your blog. It is very exciting to be able to get an inside glimps into an experience I would love to have myself. Is there any way you could show a picture of a bamboo strip on the bending mold? I use bending molds too, but they are far less complex.

  2. Hi Charissa!

    Sure, next time we use the bending mold at school I'll try to sneak pictures of the bamboo wrapped around it (we're not allowed to use cell phones or cameras during working hours). Technically it's not very complicated. We use these wooden wedges and hammer them in between the bamboo strip and the spokes that stick up, that way the bamboo fits snug against the metal, making it more circular. For making the rims on baskets it's not absolutely necessary that you use a bending mold (craftsmen long ago and still some today rub them around their knees to build up heat from friction to warm the bamboo and make it pliable enough to form a circle; as long as the thickness of the bamboo is the same throughout it should assume an almost perfectly circular shape). But I can see how in the case of some of your sculptures, where the bamboo used is only a semi-circle or when you want the bamboo to solidify into a certain shape, using a bending mold would be necessary. Just give me a little time and I'll get on it.

    Nice to hear from you!