Tsuzura (葛籠)

Tsuzura (wicker clothes hamper) is originally a kind of basket with a lid and is woven out of Tsuzurafuji (Sinomenium acutum, another name is Otuzurafuji) vines. Later, it became general to call a square clothing storage box woven bamboo into ajiro (wickerwork).


Originally, the vines of Tsuzurafuji is strong and easy to work so that people seemed to call baskets woven out of viny materials Tsuzura, naming after its materials. Even after its materials were changed, they have kept using the name, 'Tsuzura,' and still use the Chinese character, 葛籠, even today. The Chinese character '葛' itself is read as 'kuzu' but it is sometimes read as 'kazura' and kazura is a word used as a general term for vines.

Tsuzurafuji is written as '葛藤' in Chinese character and it reminds of vines tangled, and the word, 'katto' (struggle) remains as an expression for the emotional entanglements.

The baskets woven out of plant vines has been made and used to carry things since the Jomon period. Tsuzura woven out of Tsuzurafuji is in the possession of the Shoso-in Treasure Repository. When the technique of using bamboo materials was established in the Heian period, people made use of the characteristics of bamboo that is easy to process in constant width and began to made square baskets for a box to keep clothes. In Teijo-zakki (Teijo's memorandums) written by Sadatake ISE from 1763 to 1784, there is a description of a tsuzura and its material that had changed to bamboo.

In the Genroku era, a merchant in Edo (Tokyo), Jinbe TSUZURAYA, made and sold unified size baskets (about 87 x 53 x 45cm) as bridal furniture and they became popular products for the common people.

Its height was from the Meiji period to the Taisho period and there were many tsuzura craftsman in Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward, Tokyo), a famous town for kimono, and there was also a tsuzura traders' union.


In the case of bamboo tsuzura, thin constant width bamboo boards are woven in a matrix pattern and made into a square box shape. Layers of washi (Japanese paper) were put inside the box. For the washi used here, paper from old account books were reused. Pieces of old kaya (mosquito net) cloth were used on the corner as a reinforcing material. The box was painted with astringent persimmon juice and lacquered (cashew [Anacardium occidentale] is sometimes used today) and finished. Some tsuzuras had family crests on it.


The bamboo made tsuzuras are light and have a high level of permeability to maintain moderate humidity with the effects of astringent persimmon juice and lacquer and they also have moth-proofing and antibacterial effects. As their service life is said to be more than 100 years and they are strong enough to keep its shape without breaking apart even if they are thrown, they have a feature to protect the things kept inside easily even when it is roughly handled in the event of an emergency such as a fire.


Traditionally, lacquer had been used, but since a synthetic-resin paint called cashew was invented, it has been used in place of lacquer because it is easy to handle.

Tsuzura is also written as '九十九' (tukumo, winding and twisting) of which origin is the vine of Tsuzurafuji that twists and turns. The reason why sloping roads such as Iroha-zaka Slope in Nikko City are called 'tsuzuraori' (winding road) comes from this characteristic of Tsuzurafuji.

A big tsuzura and a small tsuzura as containers for souvenirs appear in a Japanese fairy-tale, 'Shitakiri-suzume' (The Tongue-Cut Sparrow).