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 skill, others also received prestigious national commendations and positions, but none other, it can be said, was an equal poet. With exquisite technical skill and perception of the natural qualities of bamboo, as well as deep appreciation for the ancient arts of East Asia, Rokansai's baskets provide a masterclass in the possible. His most evocative works extend basketry from its prehistoric base in landscape knowledge into to the realm of the sacred. Yes, it sounds exaggerated, but Rokansai's baskets can shift our appreciation of basketry itself--one of the original 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 basket 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 for its lovely surface and flexibility. Rokansai shaved these lengths so precisely that the edges are sharp to the touch. Slightly irregular, colored deep burgundy and black, finely lined and yet still natural, they appear effortlessly supple to the eye. In the hand they are entirely rigid. The basket is narrower and deeper than other baskets of this kind, with greater concision and internal tension. The handle, always a key point, is feather-thin, its bands of bamboo looped through the body and bound in an auspicious knot, ends splayed delicately.

Based on the seal used on the basket's wooden box, this basket can be ascribed to Rokansai's very last years. It was a period in which he made a series of subtle, deeply concentrated baskets. Often much quieter than his energetic works of the 1940s and early 1950s, the baskets of these years seem to synthesize his lifelong intentions. They are the works of an elder no longer concerned with accolades, but instead with transcendence. 


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