Tsukumo Nasu (tea caddy from China) (九十九髪茄子)

Tsukumo Nasu refers to a 'karamono chaire' (tea caddy from China) that was a treasured possession of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third Shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Afterward, it passed into the possession of Hisahide MATSUNAGA. Today it is preserved in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo. It is also called Matsunaga Nasu, Tsukumo, and Tsukumo Nasu in various Chinese characters including 九十九髪茄子, 九十九茄子, 作物茄子, and 付藻茄子. In addition, it is considerd the best of the 'Tenka San Nasu' (three unsurpassed 'nasu', or eggplant-shaped tea caddies).

Origins of the name

In "Ise Monogatari" (The Tales of Ise), it is recorded that 'the passage of time is seen in the gray hair (tsukumo-gami) observed in the image of the girl I hear has been longing for me.'
Tsukumo' is written with the Chinese characters for 'ninety-nine' and was originally supposed to be pronounced 'tsutsumo'. The term 'tsutsumo' means something is lacking, and is written with the characters for ninety-nine since that is one hundred lacking one. Incidentally, the character '白' (white) is '百' (one hundred) minus 一 (one) and, therefore, writing 九十九髪 (ninety-nine hairs) means white, or gray, hair.

The Route to Hisahide MATSUNAGA

Tsukumo Nasu is a karamono chaire that was owned by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. It is said that he took it along with him when he went to battlefields. It is roughly 6cm high, 7cm across and 23cm around. It is slightly bigger than most chaire used for matcha green tea. Afterward, it was passed down from generation to generation in the Ashikaga shogun family. At the time of the eighth Shogun, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, it was given to his favorite retainer, Masatoyo YAMANA. However, at the end of the 15th century, it passed into the hands of Yoshimasa's Sado (tea ceremony) master, Juko MURATA. It is called 'Tsukumo' because Juko paid 99 kan (the currency unit of the day) for it. Later, it changed hands many times, and its value continued to rise. It was worth 500 kan when it was purchased by Soteki ASAKURA. He later entrusted it to a wealthy pouch merchant in Kyoto. There are two theories as to why he did this: one is that he wanted to protect it from the disturbances of war in Echizen Province and the other is that he wanted the merchant to make him a Shifuku silk pouch. However, in April 1536, the Tenbun Hokke War broke out in Kyoto, and the 21 head temples of the Hokkeshu Sect in Kyoto were completely destroyed. Around 1547, the adherents of the Hokkeshu Sect were finally able to enter and leave Kyoto. However, by then Tsukumo Nasu was already in the possession of Hisahide MATSUNAGA, a powerful supporter of Honkoku-ji Temple. Exactly how he came to own it is unknown, but it is said that he spent 1000 kan to purchase it.

The famous Tsukumo Nasu

While in Hisahide's possession, Tsukumo Nasu was an object of envy in the world of Sado. It also appears in Luis FROIS' writings. However, Hisahide had no choice but to hand it over when Nobunaga ODA, who had been protecting Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, demand it. Hisahide also became Nobunaga's subordinate. Tsukumo Nasu became Nobunaga's favorite. He took it along with him when he went to the capital, Kyoto, accompanied by his attendants in June 1582. According to one opinion, it was by his side at the Honnoji Incident, where it was reduced to ashes. There is another view that it was kept at Osaka-jo Castle by Hideyori TOYOTOMI who had received it from his father, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who had obtained it when it was found in the ruins of the fire. However, it was again exposed to the fires of war during the Siege of Osaka. Although it was retrieved from the ruins of the fire on Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's orders, it was severely damaged. It was thus left in the care of a master craftsman in lacquer called Togen FUJISHIGE for repair. And it continued to be handed down in the Fujishige family as a family treasure bestowed by Tosho Daigon-gu Shrine (where Ieyasu TOKUGAWA is enshrined). In the Meiji Period, it came into the hands of Yanosuke IWASAKI of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (financial and industrial conglomerate). It is reported that he even borrowed money from his brother to buy it. Today, it is on display in a museum in Tokyo. X-ray examinations have revealed that, although the 'keshiki' (literally meaning landscape, this term describes the unforeseen changes such as warping, spots etc in the ceramic) and other surface features that appear to be glaze are in fact repairs using lacquer.

[Original Japanese]