The strength, flexibility, and native abundance of bamboo in Japan have made it a mainstay for producing everything from furniture to textiles since prehistoric times. It also has a long history as an important crafting medium.
By using a fine bamboo thread to weave elaborate patterns, bamboo braiding creates an effect reminiscent of lace. Bamboo braiding is an antique art with hundreds of variants. Only a handful of dedicated young artisans carry on the tradition today, one of whom is Kyoto’s Chiemi Ogura.
Ogura specializes in a method of braiding called mutsume ami, which uses hexagonal patterns similar to rustic basket weaving. The award-winning artist is known for her delicate floral and botanical motifs that come out in her tableware and jewellery pieces. Her designs often include peonies, bay leaves, and pine needles, with every step completed by hand—from cutting the live stalks into strips to the intricate braiding process, and then dyeing the completed pieces.
A basket or vase typically takes three to five days to make, while some of the more complex jewellery can take upwards of seven days. Experimenting with innovative techniques and contemporary designs—a departure from standard time-honed methods—is particularly time consuming. For Ogura, the effort is worth it. She takes pride in keeping her heritage alive, and bamboo’s highly sustainable nature feeds her environmental consciousness.