Passing time in Bhutan (Part 3)
Assistant Professor Takehiro Hirayama
The Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC)
What comes to mind when asked about Bhutanese handcrafts? Paper is a great example. In Bhutan, traditional paper is manufactured in a similar manner as the Japanese washi and often used to wrap gifts. There are different kinds of lacquerware as well, such as a dapa (a container with a lid). High-quality lacquerware could get very expensive. The wooden masks used for traditional dances are also carefully carved by the hands of craftsmen. And, not to forget the famous Bhutanese textiles. There are a number of tourists who spend a fortune on these beautifully woven textiles every time they visit.
A handcraft I would like to draw attention to are traditional bamboo handcrafts, especially bangchun (spelled bangchu or pongchu), which is a circular container with a lid. It is woven from bamboo and used as a lunchbox to put rice and other side dishes inside. Bangchun is made of a special bamboo called yura, which makes the container airtight. It is amazing how nothing spills even when you flip over a bangchun with rice and stew (for example, ema datshi, a strew with hot pepper and cheese) inside.
The so-called “modern” lunchboxes, starting ones by ZOJIRUSHI Company, are recently becoming mainstream in Bhutan. Though less and less people are using bangchun as a lunchbox, there are unlimited possibilities for its use. You could serve snacks and fruits, or even use it as a gift box. I personally find it handy at the University to store stationary goods such as a post-it, business cards, and USB flash drives, and to hand out souvenirs from a business trip or collect fees for a get-together. It’s so useful, that I actually ordered 30 of them from a craftsman through my acquaintance.
Bangchun ranges from 10 to 30 cm in diameter. There are fancier versions with leather on its side for easy opening and sealing. The design is so elaborate, and with bangchun being light, cute and useful, it qualifies for the perfect Bhutanese souvenir.
On the side note, there are different kinds of bamboo crafts aside from bangchun which are a very close part of the Bhutanese people’s daily lives, forming a part of their culture. It may be interesting to comparatively study Bhutanese and Japanese bamboo crafts.
How to make bangchun