Jiro finished building his studio a few months ago and is slowly getting back into production. He has exhibited in a couple of shows here and has a show scheduled for July at Butters Gallery in Portland. He has started work on some new pieces, but because he just started a new business, he is really working hard.
His new business is called Inagaki Ringyou 稲垣林業 – Inagaki Forestry (Inagaki is the name of our neighborhood). He has pulled together a small crew and picks up contracts from the forestry service to thin plots of trees, usually 杉(cryptomeria japonica). The plots can be anywhere between 5 and 25 acres and the terrain is variable. Once his business gets going, he expects to be able to just manage the crew and work part-time, but now he is working 6 or 7 days a week and working on bamboo in the evenings and on rainy days. On the days he isn’t up in the mountains, he is gathering supplies, designing, prepping and creating work.
We’ve had a few visitors to Saiki to see his work and it’s been fun to show people our space here. A couple weeks ago, Jerry Wingren, a sculptor friend of Jiro’s from Colorado, came to Saiki for a couple of days. We enjoyed a great dinner with some other friends here and Jiro took him to look at bamboo knives and we just hung out and talked. It is a little tricky juggling care for ba-chan and visitors, but we are figuring out how to make it all work.
Like most of the bamboo artisans in Kyushu, Jiro usually uses madake (phyllostachys bambusoides) in his work. However, he also uses kurochiku black bamboo (phyllostachys nigra) and nemagaridake bamboo (Sasa kurilensis).
Each of these bamboos has different qualities that suit different style of pieces and weaving styles. Madake and kurochiku are both timber bamboos, but black bamboo has a distinctive coloring that needs to be considered when dying and applying lacquer.
He has been using nemagaridake for some of his recent work. Nemagaridake (literally: bent root bamboo) grows well in cold climate and is about pencil-thick in diameter. In comparison, madake ranges from 2 to 4 inches in diameter.
Nemagaridake is a tenacious, vigorous plant and can grow up to about 3 meters in height. In warmer climates (i.e. where we live), it doesn’t grow to its full height. The bamboo shoots of this variety are especially tasty and don’t require a boiling to remove the acrid flavor. They can even be eaten raw or grilled. Information and recipes in Japanese. This variety doesn’t grow much around here, so Jiro orders it from Shimane Prefecture.
Splitting nemagaridake is a little trickier than splitting the large poles of madake and kurochiku. The edges are sharper and it splinters easily. In all of his weaving, he only uses the outer layer of the bamboo and the rest is composted. Each strip used in a piece is split and finished to be the exact same thickness and width. Also every edge is beveled, so that it the weaving looks good. He usually dyes the strips before weaving. Once a piece is woven, he applies several layers of urushi lacquer.
Two weekends ago I went up to Kokura where I lived when I first lived in Japan 30 years ago. I met up with some old friends and explored some old, familiar places. It was a beauiful weekend and it’s always great to get away for a few days.
It’s getting really warm and I put away all our winter gear. I’ve got some cilantro growing and some jalapeno start. Hopefully we’ll have the makings for some good salsa this summer.