Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trip to Hinokage Town









Recently, I went on a three-hour drive to a mountain town in northern Miyazaki prefecture called Hinokage to visit a bamboo craftsman who lives there. His name is Hiroshima Kazuo and he's a pretty famous figure in bamboo craft circles here in Japan. Now 94 years old, Hiroshima still lives by himself, and was mentally sharp, bright, and full of humor when we talked to him that day. The picture shows me and him sitting together, with Mr. Mike Okuma from the Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft Training and Support Center on the far right, and Ms. Keiko Hirose, a former graduate of the center, on the far left (Kazutaka Kimiyama, also a former graduate, practicing basketmaker, and online retailer through his website http://www.takekago.com/, is taking the photograph). Some bamboo craft/basket enthusiasts may already know this, but some of Hiroshima-san's works were exhibited at Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1995, and featured in a handsome book published under the same title as the exhibition, "A Basketmaker in Rural Japan." While poring over this and other publications, we talked with Hiroshiima san about his work. Because he lives in the deep mountain valleys of the Takachiho region of rural Kyushu, all of the baskets and other items he made were of the useful sort (contrasting with contemporary Beppu-style bamboo crafts, which run the gamut from useful and attractive to purely aesthetic and sculptural). He made household and agricultural tools and containers, sieves, trays, tools for silkworms and silk production, creels (fish and eel containers), fish, crab, and eel traps, and on and on. We talked a lot about the technical aspects of his products--what types of bamboo were used for them, their dimensions, etc.---which was an invaluable experience for me as an aspiring bamboo craftsman, but he often repeated this phrase that basically meant, "there's only so much I can express with words." He has over 60 years of bamboo craft experience after all. His workshop is a long room located in the front section of his house. The wall on one side has a small door for the long bamboo culms to fit through so he can slide them back and forth when he works. And the floor is sunken where he works so he can sit on the floor without having to fold his legs, something I now hope to have when I get settled making bamboo crafts somewhere someday.

Hiroshima's works will be on display until November 23rd at the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Nature and History in an exhibition titled 暮らしの中の竹と木, for anyone in the area who might have an opportunity to see them. Here is a link to Hinokage town's Bamboo Crafts Museum, where you can see more pictures of Hiroshima-san and his baskets. And lastly, you can read a full article about the 1995 Smithsonian exhibition at this website if you give information about your local library.

3 comments:

  1. Stephen,
    What rare treat, you got to meet him...had no idea he ALIVE age 94 - live quite well!

    He Sound like my husband Keiji Oshima have same way of saying it too. "There so much I can express with words"!!!!
    But Keiji express differently "by hand on" Taking the students to the Bamboo Grove than in the classroom.
    We enjoyed the book too "A Basketmaker in Rural Japan".

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  2. Stephen !!

    Hinokage - that's my furusato! Interpreted for visitors to Hiroshima-san's place on a few occasions.

    Nakamura Kenji, who passed away several years ago, displayed samples of Hiroshima-san's work in his store down in the valley. He'd hang the baskets and what not from the ceiling. The man worked hard to gain recognition for Hiroshima-san by writing letters to the Smithsonian and various embassies.

    Anyway, happy to stumble on this site and see Hiroshima-san going strong.

    If you're still wondering who this is... let me give you a hint. I used to visit you at the Kencho.;-)

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  3. I have absolutely no clue. Who would be from Hinokage but visit me in the kencho and have native-level English? Can you give me another hint?

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