had some good weather so I broke out the charcoal brazier and set to my rod making. This time I would be firing two types of bamboo – just the practice stuff, not the good bamboo for actual rods. Straightening the bamboo over a fire is probably the hardest part of traditional Japanese rod making and I was lucky one of my friends gave me a huge amount of bamboo for me to practise with i.e., to set on fire, to snap into pieces and burn myself with – in other words, getting the hang of it through repeated trial and error, the only way to learn such a skill. Whilst bamboo rod making may sound and look glamorous, it really isn’t; it is mostly hard slog, very dirty, and involves a great number of minor personal injuries, mostly to one’s hands. First off I needed to trim the branches of the bamboo – I do the rough work with a pair of bonsai shears and then the smaller stuff with a Japanese knife after. The branches on this particular species of bamboo are very hard, and after a couple of dozen sticks I had developed a blood blister on my ring finger, and a regular blister on my palm.
Anyway, I was glad to be able to use the set of tamegi – the wood tools used to bend the bamboo into shape after heating the bamboo over a fire – I made last year under my teacher’s instruction. This is the same brazier I use to cook yakitori or chuletas at home so there was a slight whiff of animal fat at first, but soon the fire was nice and hot and drove off all the odd smells. One day I will obtain a brazier just for rod making. The bamboo is heated through and then straightened bit by bit using the tamegi.
The bamboo is heated up till just before it starts to burn – sometimes steam shoots out the cut end of the bamboo, sometimes the wood will catch fire anyway. It was only a matter of time before I burnt myself, right on the pad of my right thumb, and had me running to the kitchen for ice water.
This time round I managed about a dozen passable sticks, and destroyed about the same number again. Since this is only my practice bamboo, the straightened sticks have no further use for rod making, but they do make very strong, ideal cane for the garden; I used a couple to string up my first batch of tomatoes.
I had taken the precaution of putting a couple of cans of Yebisu in the fridge before I started work, and there are few things as pleasant after crouching over a charcoal brazier all afternoon than a nice cold beer. It also dulled the pain in my hands a bit. My rod making teacher always sardonically says, one must break a hundred lengths of bamboo before one gets an idea of how to fire it properly. Only another nine dozen or so to go, then.