From Sengoku Period, Japan to North Salem
by Alex Insoft
In Japan, tea ceremonies have been a staple part of Japanese culture for over five hundred years and were popularized by Sen no Rikyū in the 1500’s. Through the Sengoku (Warring States) period of Japan (1467-1615) and into the Tokugawa period, also known as the Edo period (1603-1867), the tea ceremony (sadō/chadō or chanoyu) was practiced as a way for people to take a reprieve from the outside world and one’s social status or rank and devote themselves to the aesthetics of preparing, serving, and consuming tea. In present-day Japan, tea ceremonies are still taught by a vast number of tea ceremony schools, are open for demonstrations to foreigners, and have been incorporated into popular culture such as anime, manga, and video games.
One anime in particular that showcased tea ceremonies is “Hyouge Mono” (stylized as へうげもの). This anime combines the aspects of the tea ceremony with the backdrop of the Sengoku period during which the tea ceremony rose in popularity. The story follows an ambitious and eccentric samurai named Furuta Sasuke, who took more pride in his tea-making abilities than his martial abilities and was a retainer of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), the first two of the three
“Great Unifiers” of Japan. Sasuke selfishly pursues material desires and rewards from Oda Nobunaga, whose soft spot for Sasuke’s foolishness kept the samurai on board for his comedic and tea-making talents rather than for his actual military prowess.
After Oda Nobunaga is betrayed, however, Sasuke’s world falls apart, and he is forced to make a decision that will decide his and his family’s fate. During his journey, Sasuke encounters the legendary tea master Sen no Sōeki (more famously known as Sen no Rikyū), and becomes the disciple of the great tea master. Through Sen no Sōeki’s perfecting of the tea ceremony, the viewer and Sasuke learn how to walk the road of the tea ceremony by entering a calm state of mind and preparing and
serving the tea in a tranquil setting. This anime is both a historical drama and retelling of Japanese samurai politics and an insight into the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony through the perspective and teachings of some of the key figures in the popularization of the tradition.
At the Hammond Museum, tea ceremonies are offered regularly and provide an opportunity for visitors to learn about this iconic Japanese practice. These tea ceremonies take place in the Hammond Museum’s own tea room, called Ryu Sui Ken (柳翠軒), which was donated in 2011 by Mr. Koichi Yanagi from Koichi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts in New York City. This tea room was initially commissioned from Kyoto craftsmen by Mr. Yanagi to be built in his Upper East Side
gallery and was later used as the temporary home of So-Oku Sen, the upcoming 15th generation Grand Tea Master successor to the Mushakōji-Senke School, a cultural ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2010,
and the 17th generation descendant of Sen no Rikyū. Mr. Yanagi then arranged for the tea room to be moved and installed at the Hammond in part of Natalie Hammond’s library in her residence. In this tea room, many traditional aspects of tea ceremony architecture are represented, such as the tokonoma (床の間 – which holds items that set the theme for the tea ceremony, such as a calligraphy scroll, flower arrangement, and incense), tatami (畳) mats, shōji (障子) paper panels, and the mizuya (水屋 – an area for the host to prepare the tea ceremony utensils and sweets).