Antiques, 12-20-08

Yesterday was a very interesting day in my antiques study. I went to Mr. Kawase’s shop to check a seal in his extensive library. I found the signature I was looking for and then sat down to listen to stories about his father. It was the first time he has talked about his father. He started out by showing us, my wife was the one yelling the questions into his ear, the entry in the “Who’s Who of the Tea World” . The stories that came out were many and varied. Two that stuck in my mind.

I think you need to think of the time period to get a feel for the type of society Japan was. Mr. Kawase’s father was born in 1888 so many of these events would have taken place in the 1920-1930 time period. Japan was and still is a very polite society wherein a lot of effort is made to not offend those you are dealing with.  Another important tenant is to not cause others problems. I know there are a lot of examples around wherein these boundaries are crossed but as a general rule I think they are valid.

His father went to buy tea at a shop near his antiques shop. The shop owner had a teabowl on display, not in an area that is easily accessible to the patrons of the shop. Mr. Kawase the elder asked to see it, to hold it. The shop owner answered that it was for display, or that at the moment it was being displayed and he didn’t want to take it down and show it to anyone. Mr. Kawase declared that teabowls were for use, for touching, turned around and stormed out, leaving my storyteller the task of coming back and apologizing.

Mr. Kawase’s father started out selling swords and switched to tea utensils after attending a tea gathering. One day a famous man came and spotted a tea bowl that was in Mr. Kawase’s shop. He declared he had to have it, price wasn’t an obstacle. Told the bowl was a very important piece to the Kawase family he continued to come back for a couple of days and ask/plead/demand. A few days passed and the tea gathering that was the focus of the person’s trip to Nara was the next day. He hadn’t procured the bowl and instead went to the gathering and penned a haiku to the effect that his trip to Nara had been a kind of trip into hell as he couldn’t acquire the bowl.

As I listened to the stories, told with more rythym and color than I can convey, I wondered if there was the respect at the time for his father that Mr. Kawase obviously has now.

The photos are of a Sueyaki pot, 800 years old  and a 1,200 year old prayer on paper. The last two pictures are of Mr. Kawase’s father’s entry in the Who’s Who book.

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