Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plant known in the world. It is also one of the strongest natural materials, yet it can be easily processed by hand, making it a popular choice for purposes such as construction use down to the finest hand crafts. Bamboo is endemic to many parts of the world and being a readily available natural resource, the plant has consistently been utilised throughout history. How bamboo is used today can be considered as the result of steady refinement of techniques since ancient times.
Found MUJI Bamboo looks at the ways that humans have learnt to work with this material. Even in very different cultures around the world, the nature of bamboo lends itself to be treated in similar processes and techniques. With an increasing concern for sustainability, revisiting such ways of dealing with the material might provide hints towards how bamboo can be potentially used in the future.
The hollow core of the bamboo means making cuts is easier compared to the solid trunks of trees. When strategically cut, bamboo can transform into sturdy vessels. Cutting against the grain of the culm, the compressive strength is retained. When it is cut lengthways, channels can be formed allowing water to flow from the mountains, supplying the village homes below.
Splitting bamboo is as simple as running a blade along a cut grain and sliding it across lengthways. The structure of bamboo allows it be split into strips, sticks and thin rod pieces of different sizes without compromising on its strength and flexibility. To make precise and consistent strips for purposes such as weaving, further refinement is required. Such parts are usually prepared beforehand and are stockpiled until needed.
The bamboo culm is composed of long, dense fibres which makes it strong against snapping even when bent. This quality allows it to be shaped freely without the use of extra parts. Bent bamboo often make up the rims and handles of baskets, dictating the forms of such items.
Thinner strands go through constant bending twisting during the weaving process, so it is often soaked in water prior to weaving. Larger pieces can be heat treated to make the bamboo more supple for bending. Once it cools down, the bamboo would harden and retain its bent form.
Regardless of the product, weaving is simply combining variations of split bamboo pieces. Whether it is a strong basket or a light mat, this single plant can be manipulated by hand to achieve precise results.
Long before plastic products were available, bamboo was commonly used to weave everyday items. This also means the maker has full control and items can be made to suit individual needs. Perhaps it is because of this customisable aspect, even when modern materials are so readily available there is always a lingering preference for the handmade.
Bamboo on the Table
Bamboo, as a young shoot, can be found in markets as a common ingredient for cooking in many parts of Asia. Bamboo culms can be used as cooking vessels for simple stews and rice. Cooked directly on hot coal, the fragrance of the bamboo would slowly seep into the ingredients. Making use of the different types and sizes of bamboo, tableware can be made with a few, simple cuts.
Also seen as part of a small baijiu (a Chinese white spirit) distillery for home use, it is said that the liquor would pick up the subtle fragrance of the bamboo. Unlike synthetic materials, bamboo does not last forever, but it is a fast-growing plant and can be returned to nature after use.
Here and there, different parts of bamboo can be spotted utilised in all kinds of environments. Whether it is the persistence of ancient wisdoms or that it is still an accessible material for many people, bamboo remains useful and versatile. In the past, it was used for writing before invention of paper, and even as fuel. Though it has been present in the world for thousands of years, the value of this humble plant is again being recognised today, gaining a reputation for being a sustainable natural resource.
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