For thousands of years bamboos are being used in various tropical and sub-tropical countries for practical purposes of everyday life. Items of regular household use ranging from simple baskets and storages for holding grains to supporting walls of thatched huts and room dividers were all made of bamboo. Such practical use of bamboo can still be seen in countries of the south, whereas rapid economic progress in other parts of the world has driven bamboo out from such uses as plastic-made cheap items are replacing those made of bamboo. However, in the modern world of our time, bamboo is not only reclaiming its lost position as raw materials for essential products, but also being recognized as an essential product for making artistic and fashionable items with unique aesthetic value.
In the natural settings, bamboo groves look pristine and soothing, a quality that attracts visitors from faraway places. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest of Kyoto is a typical example of such appeal that bamboo generates in the mind of people. In addition, craft items made of bamboo have their unique aesthetic appeal as well and these items are at the core of what is termed as bamboo art.
Bamboo has also been used for food in everyday life and they are used in modern architecture as well. Bamboo shoot is a common food item in many oriental countries, whereas the famous Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has made extensive use of bamboo in many of his landmark creations. As a result, bamboo had and is still retaining its artistic and business appeal in Japan and elsewhere. In Japan bamboo art of master craftsmen is highly valued, while practical use of bamboo in various form is helping this farm-product retaining its commercial value. Such specific qualities of bamboo had attracted some to devote their life in bamboo cultivation and there are families in Japan and elsewhere that are for generations involved in cultivating bamboo as a farm product, as well as producing various items from bamboo. Wakayama family of Tokyo's neighboring Tochigi Prefecture is one such family involved in bamboo cultivation and related business for more than three centuries.
The ancestors of the family settled in the land adjacent to present-day Utsunomiya City of Tochigi Prefecture almost about 350 years ago. The family had to go through periods of ups and downs in its effort to cultivate bamboo as in earlier days the elevated ground the family used for bamboo cultivation made it difficult for introducing irrigation system. However, they did not give up and a breakthrough came more than 100 years ago when a family member, Zenzo Wakayama, went to study modern agriculture at the university. After completing the course, he returned to his ancestral land and founded his business farm dealing with bamboo shoots and chestnuts. He also developed new cultivation techniques and eventually became a leading expert of modern agriculture in Japan.
Zenzo's son Yukio concentrated on developing and managing new techniques and started growing new varieties of bamboo in the family farm. However, with the penetration of imported plastic and petroleum products in Japanese market, the demand for bamboo declined and Yukio had to find new ways for his family business to survive. He started focusing on a single item that would make the product unique among Japanese consumers. This is how his Wakayama brand of bamboo shoots became a product of high demand at Tokyo's Tsukiji Market and the fame grew.
Taro Wakayama, the fourth-generation owner of the family farm, is currently Chief Executive of the company and he had shifted the focus away from bamboo as a utility plant to other uses such as incorporating the plantation into landscape designing as well as opening the farm to visitors for enjoying the beauty of carefully cultivated bamboo groves. The bamboo forest of Wakayama family now covers an area of 24 hectares and the vast space contains groves of various kind of bamboo, each with a different shade of green that makes strolling the path through the groves enjoyable and soothing.
The farm also has a display center showcasing various items produced from bamboo. The entrance of the center is uniquely designed with a covered pathway made of bamboo and inside visitors can see not only artistic products created by artisans using bamboo material, but also the examples of other usage of bamboo like fabrics made of bamboo fibers. The farm has thus become a tourist attraction of its own where visitors can enjoy not only feel the touch of nature through strolling around the groves, but also can enjoy Japanese tea served in cups made of bamboo and even have harvesting experience. There are also night time bamboo light-up events and facilities for taking rest in bamboo hammocks hanged deep inside the groves. All such unique initiatives are not only helping the farm to bounce back from the recent slump resulting from the spread of coronavirus, but also reviving the glory of bamboo as a wonder creation of nature with high esthetic beauty.
(Tokyo, March 22, 2023)
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