Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Katsura River-style Basket

What is this?

Although this work dates to the 1900s, its style and associations relate to the late Momoyama and early Edo period. This style of basket takes its name from the Katsura River on the outskirts of Kyoto. It is associated with the famous tea master Sen Rikyu (1522–1591), who is said to have discovered the rustic beauty of this type of basket when he happened upon on a fisherman on the Katsura River using it as a fishing creel. Rustic Japanese baskets are considered most appropriate for intimate gatherings in a smaller tea room, and the arrangement would consist of spare groupings, often a single stem, of wildflowers and/or grasses.

Some baskets are refined, symmetrical works known as karamono (literally “Chinese things”) that trace their lineage to China. Others, called wamono (“Japanese things”), are woven with broader, coarser bamboo strips, displaying the Japanese love for asymmetry and irregularity. This basket is an example of wamono.

What is bamboo and where does it grow?

Bamboo is a grass, but it branches and gives shade like a tree. Although it is hollow, it is extremely strong. It sways and bends in a breeze, yet its tenacious underground branches are powerful enough to break through walls. It may flower only once in a hundred years, yet it grows very fast. Bamboo has been used for millennia in Japan, where about half of the world’s varieties of bamboo have been identified. It grows everywhere in Japan except on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Of course, it also grows very well in the Bay Area.

What else can be made with bamboo?

A house can be built largely with bamboo, furniture, musical instruments (shakuhachi flute for example), cooking utensils and food storage containers, the stem of a calligraphy brushes, and bamboo baskets.

How were basket artists trained?

Basket artists traditionally learned their skills in an age-old family apprentice system, but students today are increasingly coming from outside the family, and more women are entering the field. The current generation of masters talk about spending their first months doing nothing but cleaning the workshop. Then, they spent months or years learning to split, strip, and polish the bamboo, and to care for their tools. Their first baskets are usually copies of karamono masterpieces. Only having mastered all of this—which can take ten years according to some—would they begin to develop a personal style and exhibit their own works.