Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

What are some of the famous products used in tea ceremony?


In traditional cultures, there are certain implements that have achieved a high level of recognition. In Japan, for example, there are certain Japanese weapons, such as swords, that have a famous name. For example, any Japanese person would be familiar with the Masamune sword.


In the same way, in tea ceremony there are some famous, high-quality utensils, and these are referred to as “meibutsu.”


  The “meibutsu” of the Way of Tea
During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the focus of tea ceremonies was the tea utensils themselves. In other words, it was different from the present-day tea ceremony, which is characterized by simplicity and the elimination of the superfluous. In those times, ornate and ostentatious utensils were used as much as possible.


Expensive tea utensils made in China, referred to as “Karamono,” were admired above all. Therefore, the meibutsu of this period were tea utensils imported from China.


But the tea ceremony changed over time. The former extravagance was discarded, leaving only what was really necessary. Tea ceremony came to focus on simplicity and frugality. This new type of tea ceremony was called wabi-cha.


Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) is the most famous figure in the history of tea ceremony in Japan. He was the one perfected wabi-cha. He was so influential that it can be said that all of the tea ceremony schools of the present day can be traced back to him.


Rikyū's era was the apogee of tea ceremony, and naturally, there are some famous tea utensils from that time that are still in existence. The high-quality tea utensils from Rikyū's era and those of the Muromachi period, are collectively referred to as “ō-meibutsu.”


After Rikyū died, tea master Kobori Enshū (1579-1647) developed a new form of tea ceremony. In contrast to the simple tea ceremony performed until that time, he brought more light into the tea house and used tea utensils that were attractive and uniform in shape.


The tea utensils preferred and developed by Enshū are called chūkō meibutsu. Therefore, in tea ceremony, there are two main types of meibutsu: ō-meibutsu and chūkō meibutsu.


There is another way of classifying tea ceremony utensils that divides them in three groups: the ō-meibutsu of the Muromachi period, the meibutsu of Rikyū's era, and the chūkō-meibutsu of Enshū's period.


  Selecting a meibutsu
Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818), the ruler of Izumo province (present-day Shimane prefecture), contributed greatly to the development of a grading system for tea ceremony utensils.


While Fumai was a lord of a castle, he was also famous as a master of tea ceremony. He not only applied tea ceremony principles in ruling his province, but he also gathered tea ceremony utensils and classified them according to a seven-tier ranking system. These levels were, from highest to lowest: takaramono, ō-meibutsu, chūkō-meibutsu, meibutsu nami, jyō-no-bu, chū-no-bu, ge-no-bu.


These standards are still used today. In other words, the objects used in tea ceremony are classified according to Fumai’s judgements and biases. Apart from writings left behind by Fumai, there are many other documents that followed Fumai’s usage of the term “meibutsu.”


The Ashikaga shogunate of the Muromachi period possessed Karamono meibutsu tea utensils called “Higashiyama Gomotsu,” while the Tokugawa clan of the Edo shogunate (1603-1868) possessed meibutsu tea utensils called "Ryūei Gomotsu."

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