Miyabi’ is a traditional Japanese aesthetic ideal centered around elegance, refinement and courtliness, eliminating all crudity and roughness. The word ‘Andon’ originates from the Japanese manufacturing industry and derives from Japanese lanterns.
Miyabi Andon Bamboo Basketry has been established by Sanji Sugiyama in Shizuoka prefecture, near the famous Mount Fuji. The company is now run by the third generation of the Sugiyama family. In 1973 they were officially recognized by the Japanese government as official producer of the Suruga basketry. Miyabi Andon designs and produces traditional household items as well as modern crafts such as lamps, bags and stationary. While sticking with authentic, complex production methods, they aim to produce new products that are valuable for a wide, modern public.
The six craftsmen working at Miyabi Andon are well-known for their exceptionally high-quality designs and crafts.
Suruga Sensuji bamboo is characterized by the use of thin, round strips to create delicate and gently crafts. Its techniques take approximately 5-10 years to learn and are passed down from generation to generation through family businesses or apprentices. Proper craftsmen know how and when to handle the bamboo and are capable of splitting the bamboo so carefully and thin, they create the most beautiful and delicate crafts.
As the growth speed and lifespan of bamboo strongly depends on the environment, Shizuoka, with its mild climate, grows especially high-quality bamboo. The artwork produced with these is called ‘Sugara Takesen Sujizaiku’ or ‘Suruga Zaiku’ in short, literally translating into ‘Suruga Bay bamboo thousand lines thin works’ – it is said that 1000 of these splints fit into one tatami mat (approximately 90cm). Bamboo baskets and simple crafts have been discovered that dated back all the way to the Yaoi period (300 BC-250AD). When in 1607 Tokugawa Ieyasu moved to the area, naturally, many different artisans followed, creating a center of craft production that allowed for development and spreading. It is said that Suruga originated through the creation of rounded, bamboo bird cages for Ieyasu, who was a falconry enthusiast. The rounded forms prevented damage on the wings of the birds.
During this time samurai started to produce bamboo crafts in their off-time, such as cages and hats, to replace the ones made of rattan, which were favored in Edo, but very expensive. About 40 warriors engaged in this craft as a side job, and the products were initially seen as cheap and dirty. Gradually, their image improved thanks to the old and very popular Tokaido route, on which they were sold as souvenirs to travellers.
As the art style developed and got more refined over time, it received recognition as ‘traditional handicraft’ by the new Meiji government in 1873 and was appointed as special Japanese product and appeared on an international exhibition in Vienna, where the arts delicacy and craftmanship got recognized internationally. In 1976 it was officially labeled as “National Traditional Craft” by the Japanese Minister of Trade and Industry, and named “Suruga Bamboo Work”.
There are several production regions within Japan, but what sets Shizuoka apart from the others is that whereas most use flat strips for weaving, Shizuoka craftsmen use a bending technique to wave, thin, flexible strings into any form. This combined with the high quality of the bamboo, near the ‘Suruga Bay’, has made Shizuoka bamboo craft widely recognized and well-documented. The construction is divided into four major steps: making the strips, making the rings, the weaving, and assembly. Nearly the entire process is done by one single craftsman.
First, the bamboo is harvested at about 3 or 4 years old. They are then measured with a ruler and cut by saw. Next, they are boiled in hot caustic soda water in order to remove excessive oil content, and finally they are left to air- and sundry, which allows them to color in their famous yellow shades.
Whereas usually the outer layer of the bamboo is shaved in order to remove scratches and dirt, Suruga bamboo is skillfully handled to preserve its full capacity. The bamboo is then cut and split into workable lengths with ideal thickness of about 1 centimeter and rounded corners. It is now ready to be used for crafting.
In order to make round objects, such as round windchimes, bags or vases, the bamboo strips are wound around a heated metal cylinder to create a ring shape. After only 20-30 seconds, the shape is set and cooled, after which the ends of the ring are diagonally cut, and applied together with special glue to make their transition practically invisible.
The strips are now slit even more finally, with a small knife.
Round bamboo strips can be used for straight-lined articles, but by bending them they become much more versatile. Between 20-30 stripes are laid on an iron plate at the same time, to carefully bend them. This requires a lot of precision and expertise, as uneven bending will affect the final product. The round strips are finally inserted into the ring holes, and by carefully bending and manipulating, unique and elegant shapes can take form, which is the basis for many beautiful craftworks.
Currently, the Shizuoka Bamboo Crafts Cooperative is made up of only twelve capable artisans.