Bamboo grove, c. 1910.

1910sArts & CultureCommerceReligious
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Bamboo-cutter harvesting young shoots in a bamboo grove, c. 1910. Correspondence on the reverse of this postcard reads: “Dear Nance, You remember my fondness for bamboo no doubt. We have bamboo sprouts to eat here, also lily roots and other delicate dishes. It is awfully hot and Dorothy is getting tan. I’ll write a letter soon, really. Adela.”

“At every level, Japan’s literature reveals much about its culture, values, and mores. Poetry, proverbs, ghost stories, and novels old and new reflect themes from Japanese life, the Japanese connection with nature, Japan’s ingenious use of natural materials, and a love of bamboo, in particular.

“… Repeatedly, bamboo appears in writings short and long, historic and humorous. ‘Grafting a bamboo onto a tree’ is equated with ‘an unbecoming match’. Stories about the good son Moso who searches for food for his mother include illustrations of bamboo shoots (one variety of bamboo is commonly called moso). In Road to the North, Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) wrote, with characteristic reflectiveness:


Many sad junctures –
in the end, everybody turns into
a bamboo shoot.


“A much beloved folk-tale known variously as ‘The Bamboo-Cutter’s Daughter’ or ‘The Shining Princess’ revolves around an impoverished old bamboo-cutter’s discovery of a beautiful miniature princess in a bamboo culm. Another favorite, ‘The Luck of the Sea and the Luck of the Mountains’, includes the character Shihotsuchi, whose antics involve bamboo in various ways. First, he flings a bamboo comb down to the ground and is rewarded with a bamboo grove; this he cuts down and weaves into a basket – bamboo three times over. In some stories, bamboo appears as it does in real life – as a pole to dry clothes, a fence to divide property, a basket, a backpack, or as young shoots.

“… As a symbol of purity, flexibility, resilience, and uprightness, bamboo plays an essential role in many religious rites and festivals. In present-day Japan, as it was in ancient times, bamboo is chosen for the important rituals around birth and death.”

Bamboo in Japan, by Nancy Moore Bess & Bibi Wein, 2001

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