Interview with Chiemi Ogura

At 32 years old, Chiemi Ogura is one of the youngest master bamboo weavers in Japan, and her creations are among the most exquisite that we have found. She lives and works in Kyoto, where she founded her brand, Kyotakekago Hanakokoro. Originally from the outskirts of Tokyo, Chiemi came to Kyoto in 2002 and broke into the rich tradition of exclusive Kyoto weavers. In this edition of “Conversations with Craft Makers,” we explore the artist’s studio and talk with her about bringing her creations to life.

As we sit down to talk, Chiemi uses an ancient cleaver to slice a bamboo cane into long, fine strands. Her movements are smooth, gentle, and betray a mastery of patience that reflects in the way she talks and moves. As she spoke with us, she continued slicing bamboo with steady and practiced movements.

Sachi interviewed Chiemi Ogura. We sat at her workshop in a Kyoto-style traditional townhouse.

— Your brand name is “Kyotakekago Hanakokoro.” In English, this translates to “Kyoto Bamboo Basketry, Flower Heart.” Could you explain why you named your brand this way?

Chiemi OguraI believe every piece captures the heart—kokoro— of the creator in the moment of its creation. So I want to maintain a “good heart” [for my pieces]. When I asked myself what a “good heart” was, an image of a flower came to my mind. The flower has a complete beauty, a striving energy. The flower lives in complete mu—the Buddhist concept of freedom from definition. The flower just lives to live. I am very attracted to that nature of the flower—hana. I think I would like people to feel that way when they see my work.

Every piece captures the heart—kokoro— of the creator in the moment of its creation.

I learned under a basketry master at school in Kyoto. Kyoto has such an established basketry art tradition. I felt a bit impudent, but I humbly prefixed my brand name with Kyo, representing Kyoto. There are two types of bamboo crafts, weaving and carving. I wanted to be an expert of bamboo weaving, basketry—take kago. As the result of putting every wish in the name, it became “Kyo-take-kago, Hana-kokoro.”

Chiemi Ogura pieces require a softness of movement that reflect the mastery of skills needed to create each piece. The time commitment is significant, and there are long periods of slow, delicate labor. For Chiemi, the movements of her work help slow her thoughts, cultivating the concept of mu—freedom from interpretation—that she recognizes in flowers. This allows even the simple movement of chopping bamboo to set her mind free.

— What is on your mind when you are working with bamboo? Do you sometimes listen to the music when you work?

Chiemi OguraFrom time to time, especially when I work on something rhythmic, such as chopping bamboo into pieces for preparation. I like the simple chopping process. And I like to weave the complicated patterns that I use in items like my cuffs. The movement is almost like stitching, and it freezes my thoughts.

— You are also attracted to the act of weaving, not only to the bamboo as a material?

Chiemi OguraIndeed, bamboo itself is attractive enough. Its flexibility allows us freedom to craft shapes as we like, but I have been most attracted to the beauty of patterns that weaving bamboo can make. There are so many established patterns, and the possibilities are infinite.

Although Chiemi’s bamboo pieces are firmly based within traditional Kyoto basketry tradition, her designs show a unique commitment to exceptionally intricate design. To achieve her designs, bamboo was a natural choice for its physical adaptability, but Chiemi’s interest in sustainability made bamboo a perfect fit.

— Among all bamboo crafts that we have seen, your bamboo crafts are especially delicate and fine. Do you believe you’ve developed your own style?

Chiemi OguraKyoto’s traditional bamboo crafts have the tendency of being delicate, being used in the classic tea ceremony. Flower baskets imported from China long ago were already delicate, but the culture of the tea ceremony developed in Japan probably enhanced that delicacy. The essence of fine crafts has been nurtured and sophisticated in the tea ceremony culture, and Kyoto has it all. I think I am very much influenced by Kyoto’s tradition. Of course, I admit the fine weaving style suits my nature, too. I think fineness, or delicacy, is something I seek in my basketry.

— Why did you pick bamboo as your material? Do you see the same energy and mu in bamboo as you see in the flower?

Chiemi OguraExactly. As a child, I loved playing with flowers, trees, and other organic things around me. People started talking about ecological issues when I was a child, and I naturally had raised interests toward that theme. Many of Japan’s traditional crafts, including bamboo basketry, are very durable. They are essentially sustainable. I was in two minds of choosing bamboo or woodcrafts in school, but I chose bamboo. Bamboo seemed more ecological, it grows much faster. Working on something that could provide a solution to ecological issues through bamboo intrigues me.

We left Chiemi Ogura's studio feeling inspired and deeply affirmed by monomo's mission to seek out and work with gifted and influential artisans. Ogura has become a master artisan in her own right, not only by achieving first-class technique and creative skill, but by also earning a position within Kyoto's exalted and exclusive community of traditional arts. Her spiritual creative vision and deep understanding of materials and tradition makes her work truly exceptional.