Bamboo and Japanese Culture

Bamboo grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Jenny Jones/Getty Images

The Japanese word for "bamboo" is "take".

Bamboo in Japanese Culture

Bamboo is a very strong plant. Because of its sturdy root structure, it is a symbol of prosperity in Japan. For years, people were told to run into the bamboo groves in the event of an earthquake, because the bamboo's strong root structure would hold the earth together. Simple and unadorned, the bamboo is also symbolic of purity and innocence.

"Take o watta youna hito" literally translates into "a man like fresh-split bamboo" and refers to a man with a frank nature.

Bamboo appears in many ancient tales. "Taketori Monogatari (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)" also known as "Kaguya-hime (The Princess Kaguya)" is the oldest narrative literature in kana script, and one of the most beloved stories in Japan. The story is about Kaguya-hime, who is found inside a bamboo stalk. An old man and woman raise her and she becomes a beautiful woman. Although many young men propose to her, she never marries. Eventually on an evening when the moon is full, she returns to the moon, as it was her place of birth.

Bamboo and sasa (bamboo grass) are used in many festivals to ward off evil. On Tanabata (July 7), people write their wishes on strips of paper of various colors and hang them on sasa. Click this link to learn more about Tanabata.

Bamboo Meaning

"Take ni ki o tsugu" (putting bamboo and wood together) is synonymous with disharmony.

"Yabuisha" ("yabu" are bamboo groves and "isha" is a doctor) refers to an incompetent doctor (quack). Though its origin is not clear, it is probably because just as bamboo leaves rustle in the slightest breeze, an incompetent doctor makes a great to-do about even the slightest illness. "Yabuhebi" ("hebi" is a snake) means to reap ill fortune from an unnecessary act.

It comes from the likelihood that poking a bamboo bush may flush a snake. It is a similar expression to, "let sleeping dogs lie".

Bamboo is found all over in Japan because the warm, humid climate is well suited to its cultivation. It is frequently used in construction and handicrafts. Shakuhachi, is a wind instrument made of bamboo. Bamboo sprouts (takenoko) also have long been used in Japanese cuisine.

The pine, bamboo, and plum (sho-chiku-bai) are an auspicious combination symbolizing long life, hardiness, and vitality. The pine stands for longevity and endurance, and the bamboo is for flexibility and strength, and the plum represents a young spirit. This trio is often used in restaurants as a name for the three levels of quality (and price) of its offerings. It is used instead of directly stating quality or price (e.g. the highest quality would be pine). Sho- chiku-bai is also used for the name of a sake (Japanese alcohol) brand.

Sentence of the Week

English: Shakuhachi is a wind instrument made of bamboo.

Japanese: Shakuhachi wa take kara tsukurareta kangakki desu.

Grammar

"Tsukurareta" is the passive form of the verb "tsukuru". Here is another example.

Passive form in Japanese is formed by the verb ending changes.

U-verbs (Group 1 verbs): replace ~u by ~areru

kaku --- kakareru
kiku --- kikareru
nomu --- nomareru
omou --- omowareru

Ru-verbs (Group 2 verbs): replace ~ru by ~rareru

taberu --- taberareu
miru --- mirareru
deru --- derareru
hairu --- hairareru

Irregular verbs (Group 3 verbs)

kuru --- korareru
suru --- sareru

Gakki means instrument. Here are different kinds of instruments.

Kangakki --- wind instrument
Gengakki --- stringed instrument
Dagakki --- percussion instrument

  • take --- bamboo
  • kangakki --- a wind instrument
  • Wain wa budou kara tsukurareru. --- Wine is made from grapes.
  • Kono ie wa renga de tsukurareteiru. --- This house is made of brick.
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Abe, Namiko. "Bamboo and Japanese Culture." ThoughtCo, Mar. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/bamboo-in-japanese-culture-2028043. Abe, Namiko. (2017, March 29). Bamboo and Japanese Culture. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bamboo-in-japanese-culture-2028043 Abe, Namiko. "Bamboo and Japanese Culture." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bamboo-in-japanese-culture-2028043 (accessed December 15, 2017).