Saturday, August 29, 2009

Teppachi Morikago Part 3: Final Steps

Allow me to finish describing the last stages of the Teppachi so we can move on to the next basket.

In the last post I closed by describing kata-jime, the step in which the strips are pressed together at the top to pinch the weave shut. From here the strips are interwoven to form a braided rim, called tomo-buchi (共縁), a name taken from the two characters meaning "together" and "rim." From the craftman's standpoint, the tomo-buchi is a brilliant way to make a rim because it doesn't require fashioning and attaching new bamboo material or tying such material with the more costly rattan--it's both time and cost effective (not to mention beautiful, as you will see).

The strips at this stage are comprised of two parts, those pointing leftward and those rightward. When braiding a tomo-buchi, strips pointing leftward are eventually arranged so that they overlap each other in proceeding order as the rightward-pointing strips are wrapped around them. The image above shows step 1 almost finished; the last five strips are to be wrapped around and inserted in holes in the lower weave so they stick outward. In step 2 (below), the strips are trimmed to an appropriate length and then tucked in the rim itself, ending the braid and creating a herringbone-like pattern.

With this, the body of the Teppachi is finished. All that remains is making and attaching a chikara-dake (力竹) to support the bottom side. The chikara-dake for this basket is a short, stubby piece whose material is taken from the thick-walled base-end of the madake culm. After splitting a tube into sticks, the sticks are soaked in water to soften them. The sticks are then whittled down to an appropriate thickness and their ends thinned with a kiri-dashi knife so they can fit snuggly between the wheel weave (rinko-ami, 輪弧編み) and the ajiro weave (網代編み).

History of the Teppachi Morikago
It would be a waste to leave this section on the Teppachi without touching on the basket's history. The basket was originally designed by the first Living National Treasure to be designated in the bamboo arts (竹芸), Shono Shounsai, who grew up and lived in Beppu. Besides the more obvious aesthetic beauty of the basket's design, the basket is also a technically superb product because it uses all parts of the bamboo culm. Up to this point I haven't mentioned in any depth the structure of the bamboo culm and how its structure affects its application. In essence, however, two major elements greatly affect how each section of the madake culm is used in the Teppachi: 1) distance between the nodes, and 2) thickness of the walls between the nodes. (Girth, or culm diameter, is also an important factor in bamboo crafts, but because poles are categorized according girth from the point they are cut from the forest and through all steps of distribution, attaining the appropriate diameter pole is merely a matter of choosing the right diameter when purchasing; the Teppachi uses poles that are 6 to 7 centimeters in diameter.) Starting from the ground and moving skyward, the difference between nodes starts relatively short, expands towards the middle and gradually shortens again at the branches. Wall thickness follows a general and gradual change from thick (over a centimeter) at the base to thin (a few millimeters) at the branches. For the given size Teppachi we made at school, we were able to use any sections along the culm that, including one node, were greater than 52 centimeters in length for the body strips, and 80 centimeters for the hari-dowa (abdomen ring). This makes all of the culm usable except for the bottom 2 or 3 meters. This remaining section is applied to the bottom ajiro weave (底網代), which is made of short strips without nodes, and the chikara-dake, which utilizes the meatiest base area. Thus, from one whole madake pole one could make a couple Teppachi baskets (the number depending on the basket's intended size) and be left with only a small amount of extraneous material.

(Photo by David Ottinger)

The Teppachi experienced its heyday as a local product of Beppu in the two decades between the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. It was made and sold as a souvenir gift for tourists who came to Beppu to bathe in its countless natural hotspring baths, often staying for weeks at a time to treat various bodily ailments in a form of medical treatment called toji (湯治). Sometimes the basket was sold containing the giant Zabon citrus, also a local product, or as a two- or three-piece set, called ireko (入れ子, "inserted child"), in which incrementally smaller sizes of the same basket nested in their larger counterparts. The type of weave for the basket bottom changed depending on its size; some consisted of a mutsume-ami adaptation called mutsume-kuzushi, or a simple square weave called yotsume-ami (四つ目編み). The size we learned to make at school, size 3, sold at the time for 100 yen. What was most surprising to me was learning that the quickest craftsmen were able to make 5 sets of three-piece ireko (a total of 15 baskets) all in one day! This is a sad fact to me considering I made 5 baskets in one month. From the 1960s onward, bamboo products were increasingly replaced by the plastic variety, putting out of business a lot of Beppu basket makers who had few other items in their repertoires with which to support themselves. The subversion of bamboo crafts by plastic products was a trend that occurred throughout Japan and is a theme that pops up in almost any account of the craft's recent history. It also seems to pose a huge barrier to any future expansion of the bamboo material and craft markets.


  1. Enjoyed reading each step by step project making Teppachi Morikago. Beautiful pictures so clearly. Did you take the pictures?
    Looking forward more of your bamboo basket making....What next?

    Douglas Brooks contact us...Will keep him in post for Madake bamboo strip when he need it.

    Do you know any more foreigner doing Bamboo Craft in Japan?


  2. Thank you! Actually, I took all of these pictures (except the ones on the taketaga post, of course) with the camera on my cell phone. It's surprising how clear the pictures turn out, although I can never take clear close-up shots.

    Next basket will be an ajiro-ami square flower basket. It was a long one. We're still working on the otoshi (落とし), in fact. Hopefully I'll get the first post up this weekend.

    I'm not sure if there are any other non-Japanese doing bamboo crafts. At the moment, there is no one else at this school besides me, at least. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's working, or who has worked in the past, with bamboo.

  3. It is rare/hard to find someone who fully understanding the fundamental making bamboo basket and/or bamboo crafts maker in American.

    Keiji (Born Seto, Japan been living in USA since 1978).
    He been making bamboo crafts and bamboo basket here in North Carolina.

    Lucky to find you by accident in Blogspot!

    You maybe the FIRST, non-Japanese worked with bamboo in your school!! :).

    Looking forword your next basket ajiro-ami square flower basket.


  4. I just happen see Smithsonian magazine Sept. 2009..just came out...An article "Serene Japan"
    Worth read it..
    There a foreigner who is writer name Lafcadio Hearn living in Matsue,Japan 1890-1904 - He has Interesting life!
    This quite towns (I didn't know) is most unexplored by Americans and Europeans.
    Wish I went there...
    How your basket coming along?

  5. How are you? All are well with your Bamboo Basket work - Ajiro-ami Square Flower Basket and Otoshi?

  6. Yes, I've been well, thank you. Very busy, in fact. I'm sorry I haven't updated my blog recently. My goal is to put up a new post within the next week. I'll explain why I've been so busy in the next post. Until then, take care and enjoy your basket making.