Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Furiai Hiroba--Playing With Bamboo at the Fall Festival

Or:   What The Fourth Graders Did

As promised, here is the rest of the piece on the Fall Festival held at my kids' school two weeks ago.  The first time I posted on this, I wrote about what the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth graders did for the festival.  Everybody but the fourth graders, because it would have made the original post too long.

The fourth graders, for the second time (last year's fourth graders were the guinea pigs, apparently), made charcoal out of bamboo, as well as a number of traditional toys.  I stopped by school several times to watch the sumi-making process ("sumi" is charcoal or ink)

After they'd gone across the street to cut bamboo (with help, of course, from the teacher and a couple of community members who live near the school), they spent the last hour of the school day one afternoon sawing the long stalks of bamboo shorter, then splitting it so it would burn better.

...Koshi manfully wrestles with the saw:-))  It was harder to saw through than he thought!  The group members had to take turns as they got tired...

(Yes--they really trust 10-year-olds with actual sharp saws in Japan.  Not yet an overly litigious society...)

the split bamboo

....one of the maintenance guys used the iron rings below to split the bamboo length-wise.  Then it was cut a little smaller to make pieces of a uniform size for burning to make charcoal.  Watch the video below to see how he uses those tools to split the bamboo!

...sledgehammer and iron bamboo-splitting rings (small, medium, and large for various sizes of bamboo).

See?  Tap the bamboo down onto the iron ring with the sledgehammer, turn it upside down, and push.  Voilà!  The bamboo was then dried for a week, and the following Friday put into this contraption:

...I was so waiting for Bilbo Baggins to walk out of there...

...he had to seal the edges with clay so the smoke would only go out the actual smokestack...

...and as you can see, this is a completely hand-made affair.  Plugged up with a can of DyDo coffee...  But it worked just fine--made lovely charcoal (which burned over 24 hours), deep black, perfect to put in the fridge or the shoe box to absorb odors or to filter water in the manner of a Brita.

 ...Lovely black charcoal, still clearly a piece of bamboo...

 ... after cutting the charcoal into uniform sizes, the kids bound it with twisty-ties and bagged it for give-away at the festival...

 On the day of the festival, I discovered that the kids had made a lot more than just charcoal out of all that bamboo...

Pakah! Pakah! Pakah!  Clip-clop, clip-clop!  Horses' hooves made from bamboo.  You probably had a pair of these when you were a kid, but maybe made out of plastic or cans (stand on top, hold onto the strings, and try to walk).  I thought the bamboo made a more realistic, more satisfying, clip-clop...

...the ring toss game--a common game world-wide, but not often made of bamboo...

...low stilts, a nice size for kids to practice walking and balancing on.

....then there were the games the kids had made for parents and siblings to try at the festival, like the bamboo spinner below--as simple a toy as ever there was, consisting only of a flat piece of bamboo and a piece of string threaded through a hole drilled in the center.  Markers were out for us "O-Kyaku-san" (Honorable Customers) to decorate if we wished...

Watch Papa below play with the Spinner:

In order to get a baggie of charcoal, we customers had to go around and play with/make all three toys the kids had prepared--the Spinner, the Shooter, and the Take Tombo (Bamboo Dragonfly).

...the Shooter.  You stuff wet toilet paper inside this, then use the piece on the left to "shoot" out the toilet paper.  Papa was much better at this than I was--he made the pasty toilet paper go at least 10 feet!

My favorite toy, though, is the Take Tombo (Bamboo Dragonfly)--a very traditional children's toy, which in all likelihood originated in China (though it doesn't do to say so to the Japanese ;-)).

...one of the kids is getting ready to make the Bamboo Dragonfly fly!  It takes some practice to really make it go--but once you get the hang of it, it's great fun to make it fly far and high.

And most interesting of all (at least to me), was watching an older gentleman whittle one.


Did you see how he whittles from the center out, but on opposite sides to balance it so it flies straight?  Here's the last bit, where he whittles the handle and puts it in, then demonstrates how to make it fly:

I love those Bamboo Dragonflies--they remind me of the oak seed pods my sis and I called Helicopters and played with as children (another natural toy :-)).  But by far my most favorite thing that day was this table full of animals and bugs made of leftover bamboo bits (made by a community group that makes hand crafts like this):

rice straw boots, bamboo animals and bugs

...the Crab...

...the Stag Beetle below...

      ...the Preying Mantis...

...the Dragonfly...

...and the Kitteh (with the Fox and another Crab visible in the background).

Outside, the fourth graders had also made bows and "arrows" out of bamboo, though I didn't get a good photo of those.  I do know, though, that those kids were having a ball that day:-))

Mata asobou, ne!


  1. That's so cool! What a neat festival.
    And that last little kitty from the bamboo is super cute. :)

  2. Hi Summer! They did all sorts of cool stuff at the festival (look in the links at the right, you'll see the other post about what the other grades did if I forgot to link to it in the post). I liked the Kitteh, too--although I was actually torn between his cute whiskers, and the clever way someone had used the natural bends in bamboo twigs to make the legs of the preying mantis...

  3. O, wow! The... and the... and wow, the... Okay, I just don't know where to start. It's all awesome. *jumping up and down and pointing everywhere at once* Why didn't I grow up where there was bamboo? I feel cheated now.

    And why did it never occur to me that a culture which grew up with it as a resource would have special tools for working with it? Those splitters are great. (I'm a guy. We gravitate to the tools.) Couple o' taps with a lump-hammer, turn it over, a couple of sharp taps, and Bob's yer uncle.

    Incidentally, I wonder what kids called those helicopter seeds before there were helicopters...

  4. LOL i was just thinking "wow, they actually let them use the saw!"
    also, i love that praying mantis

  5. Oh, how amazing, Amy!

    I love the whittling, that's incredible! I love the kitty as well. <3

  6. Daz--I totally took those pics of the splitting tools for my dad, knowing he'd be all "ooooh--tools!" I thought they were cool tools myself (covet, covet). Bamboo is awesome stuff--strong, lightweight, totally renewable. It grows *really* fast. And, of course, you can eat the shoots (mah favorite!). Remember the Alice Roberts show--the part about why they were only finding crude handaxes in China? 'Member? The archeologist there said he thinks they used mostly bamboo instead of rock (using the crude handaxes only to chop the bamboo) for knives, bows and arrows, and of course anything else they could think of. Which now makes me wonder... just how old really *are* these bamboo toys?

    And...yeah...what *did* they call helicopter seeds before there were helicopters?

    @Falen--they use hammers and nails, saws, you name it! The fourth graders just got their set of X-acto knives for art class, too. All kids have those, and they just... use them. Properly. No litigation or major accidents that I'm aware of (these kids have good hand control--you get that when you start eating with chopsticks at age 2 or 3 ;-)) I love the preying mantis, too! I think because it looked to me like whoever made it found the twigs first, and let the natural shape of the twigs determine what was to be made from them. And the twigs said, "Preying Mantis!"

    @Alice--the kitteh is darling. Those whiskers kill me, and that tall tail:-)) I loved the whittling, too--I wished I could sit down with him for an hour or two and learn. Koshi actually did whittle one of those Take Tombo at school--and it flies!

  7. "Remember the Alice Roberts show"

    That's exactly what came to mind! Although maybe trying to shoot a bamboo-tipped arrow through a car door was a tad ambitious...

  8. They did put a good dent in the door, though, as I recall...

  9. Yeah, there's definitely no doubt that it'd kill whatever animal you were planning on having over for lunch. Unless you're a cardoorivore...

    Every time I scroll down this post, I'm reminded of the charcoal-burners scene in Swallows & Amazons. Gonna have to raid my sister's bookshelves, methinks.

  10. "...a cardoorivore..." funneh:-))

    Swallows & Amazons? Gonna have to stick that into Amazon and check that out...;-))

  11. *Groan!*

    Don't watch the movie though. Awful!

  12. ooh ooh ooh!!! Tools! Crabs made of bamboo! Charcoal! And Daz, 'cardoorivore'! lol!

    I do LOVE how Japan actually teaches kids to use sharp instruments, then trusts them to do it right, and calls it a lesson learned if they don't. We in the States are far too paranoid that somone might get a hangnail... and certainly it must be someone else's fault, and certainly they must be sued for the damages... Nothing is ever our own d@#n idiot fault, it seems!

  13. I put the crab up there special--just for you :-)) You should *totally* watch that Alice Roberts special--it's called The Incredible Human Journey. Click on that--it'll take you to the YT segments. And since it's put up 10min at a time, you can watch it little by little:-)) The episode where they're talking about bamboo is episode 2, I think near the end (5/6 or 6/6). I couldn't stop watching!

    And heaven forbid somebody should get a hangnail, or a bump, or a boo-boo! That drives me nuts, too. Good thing we live over here ;-)) Koshi just got a set of X-acto knives for art, and brought home yesterday what they did with them. I'll put it up--it's pretty cool!! (Tee hee! Secret!)