A Surprise Basket
Steve here: I have invited my friend, bamboo basket collector, Masamitsu Saito, to share one of his basket-related adventures with us.
Masamitsu Saito: According to the owner of the antique shop, the bamboo letter box was made during the Edo period (1603-1868AD.) The exterior was woven with various types of smoked bamboo (bamboo taken from the ceilings of farmhouses that has been colored over 200-300 years from cooking and heating) whereas the interior is a delicate, whicker-like weave with remnants of a textile still remaining. It was packaged in an old paulownia box. I was thrilled that such a modern-looking basket could have been produced during the feudal period. I bought it right away.
Later, when I was showing off my new find to a friend, a strange thing happened. A small piece of bamboo at the bottom of the basket came loose, exposing a carved inscription revealing the name of Rokansai, one of the most famous basket artists of the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) periods.
I studied the basket carefully and saw many characteristics for which Rokansai was well known. There was enough evidence to convince me that he, indeed, had been the creator of the piece. But why was a basket made by such a renowned artist sold as an anonymous piece from the Edo period? I asked myself. The answer, I suspect, is that the work was made at a time when Rokansai was still largely unknown causing a somewhat shady dealer at that time to pass it off as a much older piece in order to get a better price. It was really an outrageous thing to do; but, ironically, it benefited me. Unlike then, today a Rokansai basket is much more valuable than that of an anonymous Edo-period artist. I probably could not have bought it if it had been offered as a Rokansai piece. It would have been too expensive.
Masamitsu Saito is one of the world's foremost collectors of one-of-a-kind Japanese bamboo baskets. To see more of his collection, see http://www.takekogei.com/