THE HUNTINGTON ARCHIVE of Buddhist and Asian Art

A Basketmaker in Rural Japan

Enter Online Exhibition Here

A Basketmaker in Rural Japan

January 22 - March 28, 1999 | The Columbus Museum of Art
480 E. Broad St. | Columbus, OH 43215 | USA

© Text Louise Allison Cort and Nakamura Kenji
© Photographs as noted in captions of images

About the Artist

As a young child, Hiroshima Kazuo dislocated his hip, preventing him from participating in the physically demanding work of the farm and from walking the long distance to the nearest school. At age 17, Hiroshima undertook a two-year apprenticeship to a self-taught basketmaker from whom he learned to make baskets- a skill that demands careful attention to detail and construction technique.

In 1933, Hiroshima took up the life of an itinerant basketmaker, traveling from village to village, and gradually building his reputation and clientele. In spring and autumn, he visited villages in the Hinokage region - sometimes staying with people for a week at a time - making whatever new baskets were needed and repairing or replacing broken or worn-out ones. Hiroshima not only designed each basket to suit the needs of the client, but he also tailored certain baskets to the customer's size. A backpack, for example, would be designed to fit the wearer's shoulders so as not to brush against trees on the narrow mountain paths. The personal relationship between Hiroshima and his client would often continue for years. A craftsman's skill, reliability, and moral behavior earned him his reputation. According to Hiroshima, "A craftsman's proudest moment is when the customer likes what has been made and is happy to have it."

Since the 1950s, Hiroshima has remained in his home region of Hinokage, where he refined old basket designs and mastered new ones. In November 1992, he received a distinguished Ministry of Labor award as an "Outstanding Contemporary Craftsman." "Making a good basket," Hiroshima has said, "is not a process of thinking about what to do. It's more like a form of prayer. When I'm working I keep telling myself, 'Do it well, do it well.' I want to make something that will please the person who uses it and suits that person's needs. And I just try to do work that I can be satisfied with." As a professional basketmaker, Hiroshima also expresses concern about the future of his craft. "Bamboo craft has continued for three hundred, four hundred years. It's intolerable to think that it will end with my generation. Somewhere, somehow, a seedling will sprout again. In anticipation of that day, so that the skill won't be forgotten, with the time remaining to me I want to make as many more baskets as I can."

The Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad Street, is an educational and cultural center for the people of central Ohio. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and until 8:30 p.m. every Thursday. For additional information, call the Museum's 24-hour information line at 614-221-4848 or visit

Press Release
(December 21, 1998)


(Columbus, Ohio) A Basketmaker in Rural Japan, an exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art from January 22 - March 28, 1999, celebrates the life work of Hiroshima Kazuo (b. 1915), the last professional itinerant basketmaker in the mountainous Hinokage region on Kyushu, a southern island of Japan. The 70 baskets in the exhibition, part of the Nakamura Kunio collection in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, represent the complete repertoire of baskets that Hiroshima learned to make during his 68-year career as a bamboo craftsman.

The exhibition is the first in the United States to focus on Japanese baskets as objects of use. Hiroshima's baskets reflect the importance of the basketmaker's craft in Hinokage, where agriculture, fishing, and lumber harvesting dominate the local economy. The baskets also demonstrate Hiroshima's consummate skill as a bamboo artist.

Visitors will view the exhibition in four parts arranged according to the themes of Mountains, Rivers, Kitchen and Farmyard, and the Professional Basketmaker. Baskets displayed in each section are representative of the types of baskets Hiroshima designed specifically for the farmers, fishermen, and residents of Hinokage. Among the unique assortment of baskets on display are: backpack and hip baskets for harvesting and transporting crops such as tea leaves and shiitake mushrooms; baskets and sieves for kitchen and farmyard tasks; rice storage baskets; baskets for holding live eels; fishing traps and creels; trays for raising silkworms; and woven cylinders for making soy sauce.

The Professional Basketmaker section includes examples of Hiroshima's most distinct basket designs, his tools, and a videotaped interview that records his reflections on the meaning of baskets as handmade objects that "connect the hearts of the maker and the user." Six large photo panels evoke the mountainous terrain of Hinokage where Hiroshima lives today and where his baskets are still being used.

A Basketmaker in Rural Japan was organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., from the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Support for this exhibition was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibition Fund and Nippon Express Co., Ltd.

The local presentation of A Basketmaker in Rural Japan and its associated programs are sponsored by King Thompson, Realtors.

A 168-page catalogue, A Basketmaker in Rural Japan, will be available through the Museum Shop for $34.95. Featuring more than 100 illustrations, the book was written by the exhibition organizers, Louise Allison Cort, Curator of Ceramics with the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Galleries of Art, and Nakamura Kenji, independent researcher and resident of Hinokage.

"A Basketmaker in Rural Japan" was organized by Arthur M. sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D. C., from the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Support for this exhibition was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibition Fund and Nippon express Co., Ltd.

The local presentation of "A Basketmaker in Rural Japan" and its associated programs are sponsored by King Thompson, Realtors.

Image digitization by Ying Chua, Wei Lin and Anu Vedagiri; image correction by Anu Vedagiri