Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Relationships with Nature (3): Bamboo

Bamboo (take) is a very strong plant. With a sturdy root structure, it is symbol of prosperity. Simple and unadorned, the bamboo is also symbolic of purity and innocence. "Take o watta youna hito (a man like fresh-split bamboo)" refers to a man with a frank nature.

Bamboo appears in many ancient tales. "Taketori Monogatari (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)" also known as "Kaguya-hime (The Princess Kaguya)" is about the princess of the moon who is found inside a bamboo stalk, and returns to the moon in the end. It is the oldest narrative literature in kana script, and one of the most beloved stories in Japan.

Bamboo and sasa (bamboo grass) are used in many festivals to ward off evil. On Tanabata (July 7), people write their wishes on strips of paper in various colors and hang them on sasa.

"Take ni ki o tsugu" (putting bamboo and wood together) is synonymous with disharmony. "Yabuisha" ("yabu" is bamboo groves and "isha" is a doctor) refers to a quack. Though its origin is not clear, it is probably because just as bamboo leaves rustle in the slightest breeze, an incompetent doctor makes a great to-do about even the slightest illness. "yabuhebi" ("hebi" is a snake) means to reap ill fortune from an unnecessary act. It comes from the likelihood that poking a bamboo bush may flush a snake. It is a similar expression to, "let sleeping dogs lie".

Bamboo is found all over in Japan because the warm, humid climate is well-suited to bamboo cultivation. It is frequently used for construction and handcrafts. Shakuhachi, is a wind instrument made of bamboo. Bamboo sprouts (takenoko) also have long been used in Japanese cuisine.

For years, people were told to run into the bamboo groves in the event of an earthquake, because the bamboo's strong root structure would hold the earth together.

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