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WHAT would the Japanese do without the bamboo? Indeed so extensive is the part played by the bamboo, not only in the beautifying of the land, but in her domestic economy, that the question is rather, what does it not do? The number of species of bamboo in Japan at present is stated to be fifty, not including numerous other varieties and sports; among them thirty-nine are indigenous, and the others have been imported at various times from Korea, China, or the Lu-chu Islands. From time immemorial the Japanese have not regarded the bamboo as a tree — it forms a category apart, and they speak of "trees and bamboos"; they say it belongs to the grasses, and is just a giant grass and nothing more. It is indeed a beautiful and wonderful grass with a rate of growth which cannot be compared to that of any other member of the vegetable kingdom; some species are said to show a growth of several feet in the course of four-and-twenty hours, reminding one of one of the many ghastly forms of Chinese tortures, when a man is pegged to the ground on the top of a sprouting bamboo, whose shoots are so strong that they will grow right through the man's body in the course of a single night.
Most people persist in regarding the bamboo as a tender tropical plant unable to stand our bitter Northern winters; but there must be many hardy species, as often they may be seen bending under the weight of snow, even in the northern provinces of Japan, where the snow-fall is measured not in inches but in feet. Many varieties there are which no doubt would not flourish, varieties associated in one's mind with the gardens of Trinidad or the well-known Perediniya gardens in Ceylon, but these tropical species should not be confounded with the hardy forms which find their home in Japan and China. In the Bamboo Garden, the author has viewed the bamboo chiefly from the standpoint of acclimatisation in England, especially in the damper western and southern counties, for dampness seems essential to the life of a bamboo; in fact, so greedy is it of moisture that in many countries where the rainfall in summer is small the bamboo is condemned, as it sucks the life from surrounding plants. One of the commonest and most beautiful species, the moso dake or feathery bamboo, was an import from China; it is so named from its golden stem and overhanging plume-like fronds appearing like a group of feathers; and it is used to a great extent as one of the features of a Japanese garden. Other imported species are the hochiku tree or square bamboo, and the samo chiku, whose stems when young are of a bright red hue. These bamboos were imported for industrial uses or for the adornment of rich men's gardens; and besides these there is a long list of other native and foreign varieties.
To the bamboo the Japanese owe much, for it would seem to be the cause of much of their clever constructive work; properly handled it will do most things, but it is necessary to understand its proper treatment and peculiar qualities. How puzzled an English carpenter would be if he were asked to construct one of those delicate, dainty little tea-rooms entirely of bamboo! which it is possible to do.
The larger species will provide a combination of lightness and strength, which makes them an admirable framework for houses, and an intermediate size will make ornamental doors or panelling, the varying height of the joints forming a natural pattern; while the ornamental floor of the verandah can be made of bamboo. The water-pipes will be of bamboo, as they neither rust like iron nor get hot like wood; and the carpenter will tell you that bamboo nails serve better for certain purposes than metal ones, being non-conductors of heat and non-corrosible. The thick poles seem remarkably strong, and are always used for carrying heavy weights and for punt poles. The national flag of the Rising Sun is sure to be flying from a bamboo. A complete list of its uses would appear to be never-ending, but it is amusing to think how many things in daily use in Japan are made of this "grass." The smaller kinds make fans and baskets, penholders and tobacco-pipe stems, umbrellas and coolies' hats, ladles and delicate whisks for stirring the "honourable tea" at a tea ceremony, chopsticks for everyday use, and bird-cages, fishing-rods and walking-sticks, flutes and trumpets, every description of toy, and ornaments of innumerable kinds. Sandals and the soles of clogs are made from the dried sheath of the culm of the young bamboo, and it also serves for wrapping up such things as rice sandwiches, meat and cake, or anything which is liable to stain its receptacle. Fish-baskets made of split bamboo have a clean, cool lining of sasa or bamboo grass, a variety which grows on hills or by the wayside; in spring its leaves are of the brightest green, but become edged with white as the year wanes, producing the effect of a variegated form. Other kinds, split and twisted, make strong hawsers, and are even used in rural districts in the construction of bridges; and yet another kind is boiled and flattened out into trays which are much prized. The young shoots are boiled and eaten, and taste rather like flavourless asparagus. So there is no end to the uses of the bamboo. As mentioned elsewhere, it is one of the "four gentlemen of the floral kingdom," being associated with the pine, orchid, and plum. Its never-fading colour causes it to be compared to the virtue of man or the chastity of woman. 0 Take, meaning honourable bamboo, is one of the popular names for a Japanese girl; and their writers and poets use it frequently as a nom de plume.
One of the first stories of Japanese literature, in the tenth century, was called Taketori Monogatari. Taketori, meaning bamboo gatherer, is the story of an old man who made his living by making bamboo ware. One day he saw in the woods a bamboo with a shining stem; he split it open, and discovered in one of the joints a beautiful little maiden only three inches in height. He took this wonderful little bamboo maiden home and adopted her as his daughter, giving her the name of Kagujakime or the "Shining Lady." She grew up to womanhood, and her marvellous beauty attracted many admirers. She assigned a quest to each of them, under the promise that she would marry the suitor who should succeed in accomplishing the task allotted to him. One lover was told to fetch Buddha's begging bowl of stone from India; another, to bring her a branch of the tree with roots of silver, stem of gold, and fruit of jewels, which grew in the fabulous island paradise of Mount Horai; from the third she required a garment made of the fur of the fire-rat, supposed to be noninflammable; a fourth was to get the shining jewel of many hues from the dragon's head; and the fifth a swallow's cowry shell. It is no wonder that they all failed. This bamboo maiden was then wooed by the Emperor, but equally in vain, though they remained on friendly terms and kept up an exchange of sentimental uta poems. She was eventually taken up to heaven in a flying chariot, brought by her relations in the moon; for it seems she had been banished to earth for an offence which she had committed. Thus this wonderful "Shining Lady," from the joint of a bamboo, only three inches high — disappears.
Another bamboo fairy-story dear to the hearts of all Japanese children is that of the Tongue-cut Sparrow. Sparrows and bamboos have been the closest friends from an unknown age, and we hear the song "The sparrows sing on the bamboos so sweetly." The bamboo and sparrows combined form the crest of the great lord of Sendai. Any Japanese child will tell you how the poor little sparrow was driven out of his bamboo cage after losing his little tongue, because he had eaten starch for washing clothes belonging to a mean old woman. When her husband returned home from the mountain and learned the fate of his pet bird, he said, "He meant nothing bad in eating your starch. When you could so easily have forgiven him, how could you be so cruel as to cut off his tongue and drive him away? If I had been here he should never have been punished so severely: this heartless deed was done because I was away. Alas! how can I help shedding tears?" He started out the next morning to find his lost pet, singing —
Where are you?
Where is your lodging,
Where are you?
"Chu, Chu, Chu."
The sparrow soon recognised the voice of his master, and jumped out of his house, exclaiming, "Pray enter my humble home!" The house was made, of course, of bamboo bush, as sparrows' houses always are, and the pillars and roofs were also of bamboo. The sparrow said, "You have come a long way to see me. How can I thank you enough! I cannot help shedding tears of joy." The story goes on to tell of all the strange things the sparrow did, which turned to fortune for the old man. However, when his wife came singing the same song, her greediness made her bring a heavy basket instead of a light one, as her husband had done. So when she opened the cover she found not gold and treasures as her husband had done, but a monster with three eyes, a giant toad, a viper, and other terrible reptiles.
Another simple Chinese story is from the so-called "Four-and-Twenty Paragons of Filial Piety." There was a man whose filial piety was so wonderful that his true heart moved even Heaven and Earth. His old mother wished to eat the tender bamboo shoots one cold winter day when it was absurd to try and get them. This man started towards a bush of bamboo to look into it, and there, to his great surprise, he found plenty of the new shoots. It is said that his great filial piety moved the hearts of the bamboo bushes and they answered his true devotion voluntarily. Filial piety is the virtue par excellence of the Eastern world; such a story is very popular with the Japanese people, and is read to their children to encourage their devotion towards their old parents.
Like its associate the pine, the bamboo plays an important part in the art of flower arrangement, though there again we are told by Mr. Conder that strictly speaking it is regarded as neither a tree nor a plant. Possibly the most important of all its uses in the art lies in the fact that so many of the vessels made for holding the flowers are made of bamboo, some merely plain sections, others of the most fanciful description. Some of the baskets of Chinese origin were made of split bamboo, and were so much prized in Japan that high prices were given for antique specimens. So complicated an art does this one of floral arrangement appear to be, that it would require many years to learn the correct choice of the vessels into which certain flowers should be arranged, which flowers are suitable as offerings for ceremonial occasions, the correct combination of flowers and trees or shrubs, and the shape in which they are to be arranged. The list of bamboo vessels alone, with their fanciful names, would require months to master, and no doubt in each separate one only certain flowers are permissible. The original use of bamboo flower-vases seems to date from the days of Yoshimasa, and, like so many other things, started by being merely simple sections of a thick bamboo cut so that the bottom was closed by a natural division, and the cylinders were a foot or so high. Then came the invention of innumerable fancy forms: portions of the sides were notched out, side apertures were introduced, and sometimes four or five compositions were arranged in one vase. The names chiefly refer to some fancied resemblance in the general shape — so we read of the Lion's Mouth shape. the Travelling-Pillow shape, Chinese Gateway, Shark's Mouth, Wild Geese's Gateway, Lantern shape, Five Storey shape, Crane's Neck shape, and Monkey shape; in fact a list of many pages in length might be given of all the varieties, but from the above will be seen the extreme fancifulness of the supposed resemblance. Then, again, do not imagine that the much-prized baskets are just a basket and nothing more. They also assume fanciful names and shapes, such as the Raincoat basket, so called because the frayed top hanging over the edge is suggestive of the collar of a Japanese farmer's straw raincoat; Cicada and Butterfly baskets, from their resemblance to the insect; and the Hood-shaped basket, suggesting the shape of the hoods worn by Japanese women in cold weather.
Then we come to perhaps the prettiest of all, the boat-shaped vessels, which are suspended by a cord or chain. The simplest of these are bamboo tubes splayed off at the ends, hollowed out, and hung horizontally. These, one would have thought, were probably their original form as conceived by Yoshimasa whilst observing children sailing toy boats filled with flowers; but the more elaborate bronze vases in exact imitation of ships and junks came first, and the simpler ones are of later origin. Some attribute the first use of boat vases to the fact that the celebrated philosopher Soami, to please his patron Yoshimasa, took a bronze vessel of accidental resemblance to a boat, and by his arrangement of the flowers suggested the idea of a sailing vessel The regent was so pleased with this novel flower arrangement that Soami devoted his attention to drawing up certain rules with regard to boat arrangements.
Bamboo rafts formed of bamboos of different lengths tied together to hang horizontally, either supporting a basket of flowers, or with one of the tubes hollowed so as to hold the stems of the branches, show yet another way in which the bamboo is used. Such a raft laden with cherry blossoms is arranged to suggest the mountain scenery of Arashiyama and the flower-laden craft in the season of cherry blossoms. The correct use of the branches of bamboo as a decoration would appear to be no less complicated than the choice of the vessels. A portion of the round stem or tube is selected and only a few leaf-clad twigs are permitted to remain, and, according to the occasion for which the arrangement is being made, the tube must be splayed or cut horizontally. For instance, for wedding feasts the cut must be concealed by leaves, as the sight of it would be considered unlucky and suggestive of severed friendship. Regulations also exist as to the number of twigs or leaves which are to be left on the stems, — three or five as a rule; and yet further rules as to the number of leaves to be left on these same twigs. Three combinations are approved, known as the Fish tail, Goldfish tail, and Flying Geese shape, which consists of three sloping leaves suggestive of the outline of a wild goose in flight. Probably the best known combination is that of the pine, bamboo, and plum, as it is specially employed at the New Year, when almost every house in Japan will have such a combination arranged on the tokonoma. Enough has been said to show the bewildering number of laws and regulations that surround this especial art, and it is not to be wondered at that Mr. Conder is probably the only foreigner who has ever mastered the subject, as indeed it requires years of study before a flower arrangement completed by the hand of one who is not a Japanese could hope to pass muster before the critical eye of the professor.