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Naosuke & Tea ceremony

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When Naosuke Ii was living in Umoreginoya, he was acquainted with a tea ceremony, a Japanese poem, and a recitation in Noh. In particular, the backbone of the tea ceremony was deeply related to the practices of Zen Buddhism. Naosuke mastered Zen at Seiryooji temple, his family temple, located at the foot of Sawayama mountain. He learned it under three Zen monks to reach the deepest level of the philosophy through Zen meditation. He was given a certificate of enlightenment by his master. His noble character, broad perspectives, and spiritual strength were acquired through the Zen spirit. In Naosuke’s tea ceremony, some words like Ichi-go-Ichie, Dokuza-Kannen, Yojoo-Zansin in his book are well known, but the Zen spirit exists as the basis of them.


Painted by Naosuke Ii

In Naosuke’s age, a tea ceremony had been in a fashion not only in the cities but also in the farm villages. On the other hand, an original form of the tea ceremony was lost, and it was becoming show-off of the economic power with expensive tea utensils. Some lords, Matsudaira Bumai or Sakai Souga, criticized this tendency as “vulgar tea” and started their schools. Naosuke was one of them. In this article, we trace Naosuke’s course of the tea ceremony.


It’s not clear when Naosuke first experiences a tea ceremony. But while he was living in a house in Hikone castle, his father Naonaka seemed to have chances of tea ceremonies frequently. At that time, Naosuke learned various studies and martial arts, and a tea ceremony could be one of them.


But it is after he moved to Umoreginoya that he worked on the tea ceremony in all seriousness. He practiced it in Juroken, read a wide range of tea ceremony classics, and recorded and studied them. The first result of the hardship was “Toganoo Michifumi” in his first half of the 20s. “Toganoo” is the place where a saint Myookei opened a tea garden for the 1st time in Japan’s history in the Kamakura era, so it means tea itself. In this book, he denied so-called “vulgar tea,” and referred to the spiritual benefit of the tea ceremony and the importance of the heartful exchange of a host and a guest. He had already called himself his tea name, “Sookan.”


Later, Naosuke wrote “Kan-ya Sawa“ and “Shin Kaiseki” when he was in Umoreginoya. These books show that Naosuke had read a wide range of tea books and put them in order.  The most frequent quotations are from “Nanpooroku,” so he received the most substantial influence of this book. After this thoughtfulness, he wrote the book “Nyuumonki” at the age of 31, where he declared the establishment of his school. He again criticized a vulgar tea, related the history of a tea ceremony, and announced the establishment.

Furthermore, he explained that a tea ceremony is a way for spiritual discipline and that it is useful for both the rich and the poor. It is Naosuke’s unique tea ceremony spirit. He obtained it from his self-improvement in a humble life in Umoreginoya. Only four months after he wrote “Nyuumonki,” he became a successor of II family and left Umoreginoya.

After he moved to Edo, he did not lose interest in a tea ceremony. From 1848 to 1849, and from 1856 to 1857, he exchanged 16 question-and-answer letters with Soen Katagiri, who is known as a representative of Sekishuu school of the load tea ceremony. They say these contents are deeply related to Naosuke’s tea ceremony instruction and his latter book “Chanoyu Ichie-shuu.” Naosuke started to give tea names to his tea ceremony pupils from 1853. The number reached 17.

The accomplishment of Naosuke’s tea ceremony lies in “Chanoyu Ichie-shuu.” Kozen Okubo was allowed to copy it in Aug. 1857, so the book was completed by the middle of the same year. Its content includes the knowledge and skills for a tea ceremony. All participants should keep it in mind from start to end. The famous words that appeared in the book are “Ichigo Ichie,” “Dokuza Kannen,” and “Yojoo Zanshin.”


“Ichigo Ichie”

Even if tea ceremonies were held with the same members several times, none of them would be the same one. Each meeting is only one in your life. Once you know it, all the participants bear in their minds other attendants’ feelings and drink tea.

“Dokuza Kannen” “Yojoo Zanshin”

Both a host and guests feel the sorrow of parting but exchange farewell greetings. The guests leave the teahouse, and the host sees them off until they are out of his sight. Then, he, by himself, returns to the tearoom and sits in front of a teapot. He accepts that the tea ceremony of the day was an opportunity of “Ichigo Ichie” and quietly makes tea and drinks it. The only thing he hears is the sound of boiling steam from the teapot.

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Naosuke compiled various modern tea ceremony concepts into a single work to write a “Chanoyu Ichie-shuu,” based on the samurai’s sense of the tea ceremony set up by a Sekishuu school. Besides, he established his original tea ceremony concept that he found an ideal tea ceremony in the slight movement of the feelings of a host and guests in a tea ceremony. It was a determination as a samurai and an accomplishment of the ideal tea ceremony of a samurai.By the way, there are more than 200 records of tea ceremonies after Naosuke became a lord of Hikone. He recorded all meetings in 7 notebooks and named them “Mizuya-choo.” They include the tea ceremonies held in Hikone, ones held in Hikone domain’s mansion in Edo, traveling ones held between limited vassals. Most of the guests are Naosuke’s vassals, but other lords participated in a few cases. There were some female participants from his family, which came from Naosuke’s spirit that everyone is equal in a tea ceremony. The last tea ceremony was held on Feb.19, 1860, which had been only a half month before his violent death at Sakuradamon gate.


Naosuke produced a lot of tea utensils by himself. As of ceramics, he built a kiln in Umoreginoya and made Raku-yaki. Though he made a considerable number of works like tea containers, teacups, incense cases, tea lids, etc., what still exist are a red Raku-yaki dish owned by II family and seven kinds of incense cases given to Kozen Okubo. As he supported Kotoo-ware as a Hikone domain’s kiln, they produced a lot of artistically valuable works in this period. In the record, many Kotoo-ware utensils were ordered, such as colored water containers and teacups. Apart from above, flower containers and tea scoops made from bamboo by Naosuke still exist, which shows what a giant figure Naosuke is in a tea ceremony.

Incense container mad by Naosuke Ii


  Okubo Haruo, "Umoreginoya and Naosuke II"  Sunrise Publishing

  Okubo Haruo, "A personal attendant of Hikone domain, Okubo Kozen"  Sunrise Publishing

  Kumakura Isao, "A tea ceremony of Naosuke II"  Kokusho Publishing

  Tsutsui Koichi, "Classics in modern translation Chano-yu-Ichie-shuu"  Tankoosha


Permission of quotations from above first two books are obtained from the author and copyright holder, Okubo Haruo.  

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