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Bamboo in Japan Hardcover – August 19, 2001

6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"... a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in bamboo and its place in Japanese culture." -Orientations

"It's beautifully produced, astoundingly comprehensive, and obviously a labor of love." -Surface Design Journal

"Anyone who has interest in bamboo, bamboo crafts, rituals, or Japanese culture would benefit from owning this beautiful book." -Bamboo: The Magazine of The American Bamboo Society

"A must for any library." -Los Angeles Basketry Guild Newsletter

"... speaks to an American basketry artist's passionate engagement with a ubiquitous Japanese material and, by extension, with Japanese culture." -American Craft

"Beautiful photography makes this book a coffee table star, but the thoughtful scholarship elevates it to the permanent reference shelf." -Oregonian

"A visually stunning book with beautiful layout, extraordinary photographs, and sensitive, well-written text." -Fiberarts

"Part lavish coffee-table book, part illustrated encyclopedia, it is an exceptional blend of beauty and instruction." -Joseph Lapenta, Ikebana International

"A spectacularly beautiful book... Broad in coverage and fascinating to peruse ..." -Choice

"... stunning graphics, photographs and comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the big grass. Recommended." -Kansai Time Out

From the Publisher


Could you tell us a little about your background?

"I am fond of saying that I'm a basketmaker from California. It is true, but ... I have lived on the east coast more years than those early, influential ones in California. I learned to make baskets on 8th Avenue in New York City. Basketry is the focus of my professional life. I weave, teach, and exhibit. No matter where I travel, I find basketmakers and a conversation begins. Much of my first trip in Japan (11 months in 1986-87) was devoted to meeting basketmakers and watching them work."

What motivated you to write this book? / What got you started?

"When I first wrote the book proposal, I was thinking only of those basketmakers I had met in Japan -- how hard they worked, how varied their baskets, how ubiquitous basketry was in Japan. As the book topic broadened to include ALL of bamboo in Japan, I found that I had much to learn, and the research began. Each interview led to more library work. Each book in the library led to more interviews. It was a never-ending circle for five years. I still can't resist a good book that reveals something new to me about bamboo in Japan."

Could you tell us a little about the contents of the book?

"The main thesis of the book is that bamboo touches every aspect in daily life in Japan, even in urban Tokyo or Osaka. At first, everyone tends to think this is an overly 'romantic' approach; however, upon more careful examination (or reading of Bamboo in Japan), it becomes clear that, unlike other single 'material' in Japan, bamboo is linked to everything -- language, ritual, home life, food, design, art, and crafts. Other plants are important, pine and rice straw, for instance. But they don't have both the symbolism AND the practical use, it is 'either/or.' Only bamboo touches the everyday and the elegant, the practical and the elite, the farmer and the urban housewife. Only bamboo can go from kitchen zaru to the artwork of Living National Treasures."

What do you see as the centerpiece of the book? / Why is the book important?

"The marriage of text and illustration makes B in J successful. This bond allows the reader to penetrate the book at many different levels -- one can look at the illustrations, read only the captions, dive into one section or all. All the text and illustrations are tied to the main thesis -- bamboo touches every aspect of daily life in Japan -- so the impact is considerable.

"B in J is important, in part, because it hasn't been done before. Earlier English-language books on the topic of bamboo covered part of the story, but not all. This book offers everyone a chance to really read about this incredible plant in Japan and its many guises. Bamboo enchants, and B in J lets the reader experience this."

What did you yourself learn from writing the book?

"So many things ... some personal and emotional. I learned that I can't do everything, but I can be persistent and decide my priorities. I knew I was attracted to bamboo as a craft material, but I didn't realize how passionate I would become about bamboo as a plant. I'll never stop reading and learning about bamboo and never stop being an advocate for bamboo workers."

What would you like readers to take away with them after reading this book?

"I'd like people to acknowledge the bamboo craftspeople for their skill, vulnerability, and dedication. I'd like everyone to look to other cultures with an open mind and heart. I'd like them to walk down a lane in Japan and SEE the bamboo."

What people or books were influential in the writing of your book?

"The Japanese publications about bamboo and crafts were an amazing resource. I only wish I could read them myself and not have to rely on sections being translated for me. That separation between me and the information is troubling. I always think there is one more book I need to read, one more craftsperson I need to talk with, one more garden I need to photograph ... then I'll be on top of it. The bamboo enthusiasts in both Japan and the USA were amazing. We all share a common passion, and they were generous with information and, sometimes, funding. The Japan Bamboo Society in Kyoto was especially helpful, as was The American Bamboo Society here. I'd still be writing if ABS hadn't helped me out with grants!"

What are your plans for the future, in terms of new books or other projects?

"I don't think I'll ever stop the research on bamboo. At the moment, I am concentrating on gathering information about bamboo as a 'motif' in folk tales around the world. I suspect that will be my next book. However, the link to Japan will not be broken. I try to assist others who want to do research there; I keep in touch with bamboo folks there and with basketmakers; I get back whenever I can scramble together the money for a ticket. There is nothing like the feeling of flying into Narita or arriving on the night train into the bamboo region of Beppu -- that expectation of yet another wonderful bamboo moment!"

Is there anything else the reader should know?

"Find something you are passionate about and pursue it. Or borrow my passion, bamboo in Japan, and immerse yourself in another world."


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA; 1 edition (August 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770025106
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770025104
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Means Wright on August 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
BAMBOO IN JAPAN is one of the most exciting and beautiful books I've read in years. During her many years of researching in Japan, Bess discovered that bamboo contributes to every aspect of Japanese life: from architecture to religion, from household goods to children's toys. Bamboo is made into fans, baskets, kites, fences, tea ceremony whisks and scoops; into rakes, blinds, lanterns, spoons, dolls, umbrellas, fish rods, swords, and even into musical instruments such as the eerie, reedy shakuhachi. The book is filled with fascinating facts and anecdotes. Ancient documents chronicle the use of a small bamboo knife that was thought to have magical powers, and so was used to cut the umbilical cord after birth. In the 17th century an ordinance mandated that peasants plant bamboo in order to use the leaves for fuel. Did you know that some varieties of bamboo grow so quickly that one can actually watch them grow? Or that the adult plant is strong enough to support traditional scaffolding tens of stories high, yet delicate enough to be cut into fibers hardly wider than a hair? A Japanese folktale describes a bamboo cutter's discovery of a beautiful miniature princess in a bamboo shoot. Additionally, Bess includes resources for observation and research in Japan and in the US. An internationally known textile and basket craftsperson, Bess has produced a book so vibrant and colorful, it will grow and grow sky high in your imagination.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Zenos Paradocs on January 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There have been other fine books that show and describe bamboo in Japan, both plants and craft, but no other book has so effectively shown how this remarkable plant has shaped a culture in all of its aspects, from the roots of its language, to its cuisine, its art, and its commerce---from the most mundane tools of daily life to the most sublime aspect of art and spirit. Beautifully designed, the book itself is a work of art, with text and photographs woven together in such a way that one finds that one has not simply read a book about a topic, but has become a part of that experience. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B. Bagnoli on August 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What a pleasure to see the soul of bamboo portrayed with such insight! Many examples of bamboo in use, a feast for the eyes. This book is a treasure of bamboo knowledge.
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