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Kani no Yado (Crab's Shelter) by Iizuka Rokansai

Iizuka Rokansai / 飯塚琅玕斎


Kani no Yado (Crab's Shelter)

c. 1959

24.5 x 25 x 22.5 cm

9.6 x 9.8 x 8.6 in

Original box + lacquered water container

A fine open-work basket of deeply smoked, finely worked hobichiku by Iizuka Rokansai. Rokansai was one of several exceedingly-skilled 20th century artists working in bamboo. Others may have had similar training; others also received prestigious national commendations and positions; but no other bamboo artist, it can be said, was an equal poet. With exquisite technical skill and perception of the natural qualities of bamboo, and deep appreciation for the ancient arts of East Asia, Rokansai's baskets provide a masterclass in the possible. His most evocative works illustrate how it is possible for a single medium to be extended from its prehistoric base in landscape knowledge directly into modern times. Yes, it sounds exaggerated, but Rokansai's baskets can shift our appreciation of basketry itself--one of the original human technologies and earliest human arts. 


Rokansai's career is marked, again and again, by the invention of novel basket forms. One feels that he was always searching for the next basket. At the same time, especially through his middle years he returned to several baskets, making new versions of his original creations, exploring their ideas further. Of these, the baskets Rokansai seems to have revisited most frequently is the playfully titled Kani no Yado, 'Crab's Shelter' or 'Crab's House'. These airy, open hexagonally plaited baskets are always constructed of deeply-colored hobichiku, a smaller-stalked variety of bamboo prized by bamboo artists for its lovely surface and flexibility. Rokansai shaved these lengths so precisely that the edges are sharp to the touch. Varying slightly in surface texture, colored of deep burgundy and black, finely lined, and yet undulating subtly, they appear effortlessly supple to the eye, while in the hand the form is entirely firm.

Of the documented versions of the Kani no Yado baskets, this particular basket is most similar to that featured as plate 77 in Iizuka Rokansai: Master of Modern Bamboo Crafts (Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Arts, 1989). It is narrower and deeper than the others, with greater concision and internal tension. The handle, always a key point, is feather-thin, its bands of bamboo are looped through the body and bound in an auspicious knot, and the ends splay delicately.

Based on the seal and signature found on the basket's original wooden box, this basket can be dated c. 1946-48, the period in which Rokansai was able to return to work in Tokyo just after the war. That would make this basket, along with the one cited above, Rokansai's final iteration of this idea. The late 40s and early 50s could be called the heart of Rokansai's career. He had achieved the public and institutional recognition he had sought for bamboo art just before the war, but then quickly suffered the loss of his eldest son and his nephew, both of whom had been promising apprentices. Rokansai would focus his efforts in the following years, making fewer baskets, inevitably sublime works which, as he aged, tended to the esoteric (e.g. see the basket Sazanami). Baskets like Kani no Yado are the counterpoint to those chalice-like later works, with Rokansai bringing all of his experience to create baskets of such natural gesture. 

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