Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Art Markets in Asia, Past and Present

I'm back from a long hiatus dedicated to writing and teaching, and it's time to update the blog with some interesting material I've unearthed over the past months! Working on the topic of Chinese imports in the world of early modern tea practice over the past year has engendered a deep interest in the burgeoning global market for Chinese antiquities and art. This New York Times video piece does a nice job of exploring the pleasures, and the perils, of the current international interest in Chinese art. Returning to the premodern world, my work on the medieval and early modern market for karamono (literally "Chinese things") in Japan has turned up some really interesting materials that readers of this blog may find of interest. One recent publication has proved particularly enlightening:
Hakata: The Cultural World of Northern Kyushu This newly published edited volume from Brill offers a multi-faceted introduction to the northern Kyushu region of Hakata, a key early entrepôt for trade objects (and people) from China, Korea and the Ryukyu islands, many of whom took up more-or-less permanent residence in Kyushu. Two chapters were of particular interest for my research: 1)The first of these was Andrew Cobbing's "The Hakata Merchant's World: Cultural Networks in a Centre of Maritime Trade". This chapter not only explores Hakata's unique position as a trade city in a position of relative autonomy similar to that exercised later in 15th-century Sakai, but also features the activities and connections of at least one figure important to the tea world, the merchant teaman Kamiya Sotan (author of the tea diary known as Sotan nikki). The comparative reading Cobbing provides for the cases of Hakata and Sakai was fascinating and thought-provoking, and his account of how Kamiya's fortunes rose and fell with alliances he built with Japan's unifiers (particularly Hideyoshi and Ieyasu) offered me some valuable insights into what the limits of merchant-warrior tea networks looked like in practice during the late 16th century. 2) Following directly on the heels of Cobbing's chapter is Kazushige Horimoto's "Chanoyu in Hakata: Zen, Karamono and the Reception of Tea Ceremony." Horimoto offers keen insight into tea activities in the region, both prior to and after the rise of the Sen-family schools. Translated by Tim Cross (another contributor to this volume and my on-site research adviser during a stint in Japan 2011-2012), this essay appear originally in Japanese as "Chanoyu kara mita Hakata" in Tanihata Akio's Sado no rekishi (Kyoto, Tankosha, 1999). Tying the development of a localized chanoyu culture into Hakata Zen, the karamono trade, and the roles of Hakata's gōshu merchants (like Kamiya), Horimoto also traced the engagement of the local Ōtomo clan with tea and the collection of Chinese objects, as well as their role in promoting the locally-produced Ashiya tea kettles, such as this example from the Tokyo National Museum:
I recommend this book to students of premodern Japan and fellow chanoyu enthusiasts.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The "Not-listening Monkey" tea caddy [不聞猿 という茶入]

In the process recently of writing a section of my dissertation which concerns meibutsu (famed and named) tea utensils, I came across this enigmatic little piece mentioned in a Japanese journal called  銘のはなし:十二ヶ月. Mei no hanashi: jyuni ka getsu (Kyoto: Tankosha, October 1998). 

How much do I love that this tea caddy is named "not-listening monkey" (Kikazaru)! Just look at the shape and you'll see why it evokes one of the three famous monkeys at Nikko's Toshugu mausoleum. Awesome!

While on the face of it, the name is already charming, I believe there's also embedded grammatical pun here. The surface reading of the name translates as "not listening monkey" but if you consider that the "monkey" part of the name "zaru" in this reading, is a homophone for a classical mizenkei (negating) verb ending, then you realize that it's actually a double negative -- thus a positive, possible to read as both "not listening monkey" AND as "Not-not-listening" (which is actually listening). Yeah, I'm a nerd and quite possibly overthinking this double-negative business, but it's fun to contemplate these possibilities for the meaning of the name.

It is credited to Sohaku 宗伯, an Edo-era period Seto-ware potter whose dates are unclear, though apparently he was a contemporary of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. It may have been named by him, but that is also not certain. The journal and other sources I've consulted don't provide a chain of ownership (yurai) entry, so I'm not even sure who owned it, though it's a meibutsu piece. I will continue to check other meibutsuki from the Edo era and see if I can find an entry for it. 

Here's what the Japan Knowledge Database says about Sohaku: 織豊時代の陶工。

Some tea friends in my circle think the handles mark it as a chuko-meibutsu dating to Enshu's lifetime, but the sources I've consulted all term it a meibutsu, which would date it earlier, to around the time of Rikyu. Certainly, in this case, the handles are the defining feature, as the majority of tea caddies lack them altogether.

Either way, it's a cute piece with a very apt name, don't you agree?

There certainly are some days I can relate to not wanting to hear certain things.

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Tanabata: Japan's Star Festival

Gentle Readers,

(Does anyone besides me remember how the inimitable Miss Manners addressed her readership in this manner?)

My recent dearth of posts is due to an ongoing process of dissertation chapter revisions (so much fun!) and a series of work and personal trips that took me to St. Louis (for fun and local history), to Salt Lake City (two weeks grading the AP Japanese Language exam), and to Colorado (to see family).

In the meantime, I've begun teaching an intensively-paced, four-week course on Japanese history at the University of Kansas Edwards campus, which is located not at our usual main campus in Lawrence, but in the affluent Kansas city suburb of Overland Park. It's a great group this year, and a delightfully modest class size of 22 hardy souls, the smallest class I've taught in ... well, in recent memory.

Sunday was Tanabata, the Japanese star festival, so in the spirit of experiential learning, the students and I bedecked a tree branch (harvested from my front yard) with tanzaku bearing our wishes. Students' negai-goto (expressed aspirations) included more rain for a growing garden, finishing a marathon injury-free, and my favorite, a paper slip which simply stated "Graduate!" (I have several soon-to-graduate seniors in the class for whom this course will be their final higher ed huzzah).

Here's a photo of our branch laid at the feet of the KU Edwards campus "Academic Jayhawk" (who knew?)

Here at home, Gary and I also hung out our own Tanabata tanzaku.

I'm not much of a believer in astrology, but I figure that a humble plea to celestial bodies never hurts. 

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Toyobo teahouse at Kenninji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto

The Toyo-bo (東陽坊) teahouse is located at Kenninji (建仁寺), a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto founded by the monk Eisai in the year 1202. Eisai is the individual traditionally credited with the introduction of tea culture to Japan. His tomb is located elsewhere on the temple grounds. 


Legend holds that the Toyo-bo teahouse was built in 1587 to designs by tea master Sen no Rikyu for on behalf of the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This tea house was used at the Grand Kitano Tea Gathering (Kitano O-chanoyu 北野大茶の湯) during the tenth month of that same year and ostensibly moved to this location afterward. 

The tearoom is a nijo-daime style room (two mats and a smaller mat for the host)

Toyobo is named for one of Rikyu's disciples, Toyobo Chousei (東陽坊長盛 1515-1598), the figure whose tastes this tea room is said to express. 

Typical of the period, it features a sword-rack (katana-kake 刀掛け)at the nijiri-guchi entrance. 

The roji garden is small but nicely organized. 

Kenninji's other claims to fame are its moss-and-stone courtyard garden called the Chōon-tei (潮音庭) ....

... and this stunning contemporary ceiling painting of twin dragons by Koizumi Junsaku (1924), completed in 2002 to mark the 800th anniversary of the temple's founding.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The strange fate of the Hiragumo kettle

One of the more dramatic episodes in chanoyu lore concerns the case of sengoku-era daimyo Matsunaga Hisahide (松永 久秀1510?-1577). Hisahide served as a retainer to the Miyoshi clan from the 1540s until the mid 1560s, when he had consolidated his own power sufficiently to become a regional ruler in his own right. In 1568, national unifier Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) attacked Hisahide, who was compelled to surrender to the hegemon even though he retained control of his own home domain near the present-day city of Nara.

In 1577, he split with Nobunaga, resulting in the latter man's siege against Hisahide's stronghold in Shigisan castle. Realizing that defeat was imminent, Hisahide resolved that Nobunaga would not have the satisfaction of claiming any of Hisahide's famous tea utensils as a part of the spoils. Nobunaga had for some time been engaged in his so-called "utensil hunt" (meibutsu-gari), obtaining prized tea objects from defeated foes and cowed allies alike, so Hisahide's fears were probably well-founded.

Among the many famous utensils (meibutsu) in Hisahide's possession was an iron tea kettle called "Hiragumo" or "Flat Spider"[平蜘蛛] so named for the flat spider design on the kettle's surface, an embellishment that was said to appear to crawl when the kettle was full of boiling water. The shape would have been something like this.

In a fit of rage, Hisahide is said to have ascended the castle tower with this coveted item and thrown it from the ramparts, smashing the priceless piece beyond all hope of repair, and then sealing his fate through self-immolation. This moment has captured the imaginations of both early modern woodblock print artists such as Utagawa Kuniyoshi (see above,1797-1862), as well as contemporary manga artists who are producing comic-book versions of the lives of famous premodern tea figures.

Depiction of the fate of Matsunaga and Hiragumo from Nishizaki Taisei and Kudo Kazuya 's Rikyu Shichitetsu series, in which the kettle is strapped to an overwrought Hisahide's chest (below right).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A daimyo reveals the artist within

     Cognizant of the cultural capital that accrued from such endeavors, many of Japan's warrior-rulers engaged in artistic activities. It has been noted that chanoyu (tea practice) appealed to elite warriors for this practical reason, among others that may have been more personally motivated. And while tea men from every social class traditionally carved bamboo teascoops both for their own use and, occasionally, to present as gifts to others, it's still quite unusual to see high-ranking warriors turn their hands to more arduous crafts. 

    That is what makes this exquisite lacquerware picnic set so special, since it was created by the powerful daimyo and well-known tea man Hosokawa Sansai (1563-1645). The eggplant motif for the sake flask is a auspicious one, as the Japanese word for eggplant, nasu, makes a phonetic allusion to a homophone verb which means "to succeed". I had the pleasure of examining this piece up close in 2009 at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum's "Lords of the Samurai" exhibit. The sake flask is accompanied by a food container (at bottom) and an ingenious sake cup made from the eggplant's "leaf".  Its execution shows that Sansai was not a casual artist. Lacquerwork is a painstaking process, requiring time-consuming processes of applying, curing, polishing, and reapplying the lacquer -- itself a very tricky medium. It's not clear to me if this piece would have ever made an appearance in a tearoom -- it's more suited to elegant outings in the countryside -- but it offers mute testament to how important artistic endeavor was to leading Tokugawa statesmen. 

A larger view of the photo can be seen at this link
An interesting article on auspicious motifs in Japanese textiles may also interest some readers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Matsudaira Fumai's Song-dynasty Chinese treasure

This calligraphic scroll written by Song-dynasty Chinese Zen monk Yuanwu Keqin (1063-1135, known in Japan as Engo Kokugon 圜悟克勤) is a good example of the sorts of karamono object collected by early modern tea practitioners.

This piece was in the collection of warrior tea aficionado Matsudaira Fumai. Fumai’s writings about the scroll leave no doubt that he considered this piece among the most valuable of his many treasures. It is chief among the many items inventoried in his treatise Family Utensils of the Country of the Clouds (Unshū meibutsuki). After designating the Yuanwu scroll as a “particularly famous item”, Fumai instructs his successors that “even after I die [such items] should be carefully looked after and treated just as they were when I was alive. Indeed, this concern should be transmitted from generation to generation … These things are world famous articles and treasures of Japan.”

Matsudaira Fumai (also known as Harusato, 1751-1818)

 Copyright Melinda Landeck, 2013.

For more on Fumai in English, see Kumakura Isao, "“Matsudaira Fumai : The Creation of a New World of Chanoyu"," Chanoyu Quarterly 25(1980).

Zen and tea share one flavor: 茶禅一味

There is a saying in the tea world which I've heard attributed to tea master Ii Naosuke. Anyway, whatever the provenance, the saying is "Cha zen ichi mi" "茶禅一味": Tea and Zen are one flavor". (I've also heard the alternate version, "Zen cha ichimi" which foregrounds Zen. I suppose the version depends on the speaker!) There can be no question that the impact of Zen Buddhism on tea practice is central to the development of the art. While I think that it's important to recognize that chanoyu (tea practice) also has a strong presence as a secular practice, it seems pointless to discredit the connection between Zen and tea across the board. Zen is an aniconic religion, so it's not surprising that little in the way of Zen iconography makes it way onto tea utensils, but today I came across a rare example where it does! If Zen has a symbol, it very well be the enso (Zen circle). Zen priests often write the enso as an expression of their personal enlightenment. It's much more difficult than it looks to create a perfect circle with brush and ink. Believe me, I've tried! Anyway, while doing some research on 18th-century daimyo chajin (warlord tea man) Matsudaira Fumai today, I came across this beautiful iron tea kettle (kama) with an enso design, currently in the possession of Daitokuji temple in Kyoto. A perfect meeting of Zen aesthics and tea practice, is it not? Image of the enso kama is from Daimyo Chajin Matsudaira Fumai ten. NHK Promotion, 2001.

Introduction to my blog

Welcome to my research blog. I'm a Ph.D. candidate in premodern Japanese history at the University of Kansas, where I'm currently at work on a dissertation which concerns early modern tea practice in Japan. This blog is designed to be a public outlet for sharing some of them more compelling glimpses into the world of early modern tea practitioners that are being uncovered by my ongoing research in the field. I imagine this content may be of interest to tea practitioners, fellow historians and all Japanophiles. Comments and questions are welcome! Let's share a (virtual) bowl of tea together! View Melinda Landeck's profile on LinkedIn