Seasonal Association: Trans-seasonal
When To Wear It: All year
A Note on Seasonality: Different parts of bamboo are associated with different seasons in Japan. For example, the straight stalks of bamboo have a close connection with winter due to their inclusion in O-shogatsu (New Years) decorations and shochikubai (The Three Friends of Winter). However, bamboo also plays an important part in the celebration of Tanabata, which takes place in the summer.
Take is one of the most important plants in Japan.
It has taken on many meanings and associations over its long history in Japan. According to Haruo Shirane in his book Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, bamboo has come to represent long life, prosperity, immortality, fidelity, and chastity. It is also a member of shochikubai (see below) which is an extremely auspicious combination of bamboo, pine, and plum blossom.
Its importance is shown very well in this video from Begin Japanology.
Bamboo is an integral part of Japanese culture and is used in thousands of products. Here’s a short list illustrating the importance of bamboo in Japan.
Practical applications: baskets, building construction, scaffolding, fencing, inuyarai (犬矢来traditional Kyoto fencing) implements for tea ceremony, traditional umbrellas, toys, cups, ikenbana baskets, fans, flutes, and brooms are examples.
Decorative applications: figurines, kadomatsu (門松decorations for the Japanese New Year, O-shogatsu) shishi-odoshi (ししおどし traditional stalks of bamboo that fill up with water, then pour it out while making a noise. They were traditionally used to scare off animals, but are now used only decoratively in gardens.)
Tanabata ( 七夕): On July 7th, people will tie handmade paper ornaments to a branch of bamboo to celebrate the legend of two lovers that can only cross the milky way and meet one day a year. For more information on Tanabata check here. http://www.jref.com/culture-society/tanabata/
O-shogatsu(お正月): During O-shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, homes and businesses are decorated with kadomatsu. Pairs of kadomatsu (門松) are placed on either side of the door to welcome and be a temporary home to the visiting gods. Kadomatsu are decorated differently depending on region, but all of them have three pieces of upright bamboo as the centerpiece.
The oldest Japanese story to be found so far is the story of the bamboo cutter, also called Kaguya Hime or Taketori Monogatari. In this story, a bamboo cutter finds a stalk of bamboo that is glowing. When he cuts it open, he discovers a baby girl. When this baby girl grows up, she eventually returns to her home on the moon. It’s a very popular story that all Japanese children know.
Food: Takenoko (竹の子bamboo shoots) are served fresh from March to May and preserved year round (especially in ramen). In addition, the sheaths around the base of mature bamboo can be used as a food wrapper.
The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.
Bamboo is depicted on kimono in two distinct ways.
Take (竹) bamboo
A long, straight stalk of bamboo with visible joints (fushi) at regular intervals. Take can be depicted with or without leaves.
Sasanoha (笹の葉) bamboo leaves
A clump of three, four, or five thin pointed leaves. The points of the leaves are always oriented downwards. It is very common for sasanoha to appear without take.