Culture and History
Ikoma’s Traditional Industry
The Takayama district in the far northern section of the city is known for its bamboo products, including tea whisks, tea utensils, and knitting needles.
In search of the bamboo culture
Bamboo is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. One need look no further than The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which dates from the 10th century, to see the extent to which bamboo is a part of the daily life of the people. By this time, bamboo had already been referred to as the incomparable finest material in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan). It had a wide range of uses, including bows and arrows, flagpoles, spears, whistles, ladles, chopsticks, and blind.
Demand for bamboo later grew, as it came to be used in the martial arts, music, the tea ceremony, and flower arranging, thus contributing to the development of Japanese culture.
The items that incorporate the linear characteristics of bamboo have a sense of comfort and beauty that is almost like an aroma. It is said that one can see the form of Japanese beauty in tea house architecture and the implements used in the tea ceremony. Indeed, the material is frequently used in every aspect of daily life.
The history of bamboo products traces the development of Japanese culture from the so-called Shosoin era. In particular, the popularity of the tea ceremony from the Muromachi period caused a sharp increase in bamboo demand. Tea ceremony implements had been limited to tea ladles, spoons, whisks, and flower vases, but expanded to include such bamboo products as incense containers, pitchers, tea canisters, and bowls for serving confections.
A look around a tea room will show that bamboo is used as a material throughout, including for fences in the surrounding field, ladles for washbasins, windows, and ceilings. That’s because the exquisite characteristics of bamboo are used to elicit a clean beauty that only bamboo provides.
Viewing traditional techniques (Takayama tea whisks)
Utilizing linear and flexible characteristics of bamboo,
Tea whisks are created with great attention to detail and wholehearted devotion.
Each stalk, so carefully split, comes alive in the product.
The tea masters use these tools with wholehearted devotion,
Eyes scrutinizing the bamboo, fingers employing refined techniques.
This is literally traditional handmade craftsmanship. Depending on the use of the material and the tea ceremony school, from 60 to 120 bamboo tips will be carefully split with a small knife. The work is so detailed that one small mistake will render the material unusable.
The production steps for making a tea whisk
|1. Splitting the wood|
|2. Cutting to size|
|3. Defining the bristles|
|4. Preparing the bristles|
|5. Preliminary finishing|
Conveying the tradition
Located at the far northern end of Ikoma, Takayama-cho is a site where the traditional techniques for making bamboo products are conveyed. The people of Takayama have passed on in an unbroken line the secret techniques for making tea implements, which have a 500-year-old history, including tea whisks, ladles, flower vases, and incense containers.
The Takayama Banboo Park was established to spread to the general public knowledge of the beauty and form of these bamboo products, and to further promote local industry. The facility combines the function of a history museum for bamboo and a botanical garden. Located on a broad expanse of hillside, the park contains both ponds and bamboo groves. There is also a resource center, a multipurpose park, and an ecological garden for bamboo.
The resource center exhibits the products and resources produced in Takayama-cho, including tea whisks, tea utensils, and knitting needles. Visitors can view a video to observe the steps involved in making tea whisks. There is a Japanese-style room with a view of a white sand Japanese garden, in which visitors can participate in the tea ceremony. To the right is the Chikubuan tea house with an authentic tea room that combines grace and beauty. It includes the waiting space, a washbasin, and a garden.
To the west of the resource center is a garden in which has been planted many varieties of bamboo from throughout Japan and the world. Visitors can observe at their leisure such varieties as the common madake giant timber bamboo and the henon bamboo, as well as the moso with its unusual joints, the black bamboo, and the uniquely grained bambusa multiplex.
A large tea ceremony is held at the park every fall. Part of the event includes the Enraku Orakucha, in which participants can enjoy tea from a jumbo tea cup 39 centimeters in diameter. This always brings shouts of delight from those in attendance.
The Enraku Orakucha is a tea ceremony held at the Bamboo Park in which outsized tea cups, tea whisks, and other tea utensils are used. The objective is to have many people enjoy the tea ceremony, and to create feelings of good fellowship among the participants.
Tea is brewed using locally produced tea whisks using fresh new bamboo. The participants sit in a circle, enabling them to see each other’s faces and enjoy the tea without excessive formality. In technique, materials, and feeling, the maximum in tea utensils are used. The teacups are 39 centimeters in diameter and the tea whisks are 40 centimeters long.
Ikoma legends and anecdotes
The legend of the origin of the golden kite
Before the start of the Nara period, Iwarehiko, later to become the Emperor Jinmu, decided to establish Yamato as the principal area of the country, and left the Hyuga area. At that time, Nagasunehiko was the local ruling family in Ikoma. A battle broke out between the two in the area that encompasses Mt. Ikomayama and Kami-machi. During the fighting, a golden kite (bird) alighted on Iwarehiko’s bow. The brightness of the light befuddled the forces of Nagasunehiko, causing their defeat. Thus was born the legend of the origin of the golden kite.
The legend of Ono Mayumi Takeyumi
During the Nara period, monstrous bird was damaging the crops in the area that is now the Kami-machi and Tomio districts. Ono Mayumi Takeyumi, who was living there, set out with his son Nagamaro and the Emperor Shomu to hunt the monstrous bird. Nagamaro took aim and shot an arrow at a bird that took flight, but the arrow accidentally struck and killed his father. Mourning for his death, the Emperor Shomu ordered the monk Gyoki to build a temple to honor him, and that is the origin of the name of Chokyuji.
The rooster who couldn't tell time
The Empress Jingu stopped at Ikoma while on a trip. Legend has it that she wanted to get an early start the next morning, so she ordered a rooster to wake her up at the proper time. The rooster made a mistake, however, and crowed very early, causing the Empress and her soldiers to leave in a hurry. When she had traveled for some time and the sun still hadn’t risen, the Empress got angry with the bird for his mistake and threw it into the Ikomagawa River. The divinity of Tatsuta downstream felt sorry for the pitiful bird, rescued it from the river, and raised it.
The story is told that in Ikoma, useless roosters are not fed, but eaten, while in Tatsuta, the divinity rescued a useless rooster, so they are fed but not eaten.
En-no-Gyoja reforms the demons
Long ago, it was said that a demon(Oni), his wife, and children lived on the mountain in Onitori. They would perform evil deeds, snatching children and stealing food, causing much misery to the people of the village. After hearing a prophecy by Kujaku Myo’o, a person named En-no-Gyoja climbed Mt. Ikomayama, found and caught one of the demon’s children, and hid it. He then caught the demon who was looking for its child, and admonished it, “Even demons dote on their children. It’s the same with people—they treasure their children, too. Hereafter, you must never behave badly again.” The demon regretted what it had done, so En-no-Gyoja cut off one of the demon’s hairs and made the damon his disciple.
The story goes that since then, the land where En-no-Gyoja reformed the demons has been called Onitori.