This page contains changes which are not marked for translation.

Fire making tools (hiuchi-bukuro and hiuchi-bako).
Copyright © 2001 & 2002 John C. Loring -- update 02/04/02
Contributed by Yang Forcióri

Tabako Kiseru Bon Ensem Tsutsu Ire Net Gloss Bib

The Japanese flint pouch (hiuchi-bukuro) dates back to at least 700 CE and consists of a small leather, flap over pocket which held flint and tinder, attached at the bottom to a strip of steel. The pocket flap often as not is found with metal decorations but rarely of the quality of a tabako-ire kanagu (for that reason flint pouchs are seldom found in object d’art oriented collections). By the 19th century the hiuchi-bukuro appears to have been only very occasionally, if ever, a part of a man's smoking ensemble and probably was carried only while traveling or by workers in the countryside. Further, even earlier the hiuchi-bukuro may have been at least partially replaced, as discussed above, by the bottom compartment of a two case tonkotsu or the side pocket of a tabako-ire.

A more novel fire making tool dating to as early as the 17th century was a mechanical netsuke in the form of a miniature but fully working flintlock gun mechanism inside a walnut shaped metal shell. These are known as hiuchi-bako. While intriguing the hiuchi-bako seems never to have attained significant use and certainly all but disappeared by the 19th century. Remarkably though, while seldom found, when found these hiuchi-bako are often still in working condition (which perhaps speaks to the novelty as opposed to the utility of the piece).

Lastly, illustrations sometimes show lower classes at work, carrying a coil of smoldering, slow burning 'rope' to light a kiseru when time allowed.

The netsuke. The netsuke (the 'u' is silent) was the toggle of the smoking ensemble (and other sagemono) that kept it from slipping loose from the obi. While it’s origin was likely well before the 16th century as a simple utilitarian device by the 18th and 19th centuries netsuke, even in common forms, were true miniature sculptures, and in the hands of a number of great Japanese carvers (netsuke-shi) perhaps the finest miniature sculptures the world has ever seen. And in all events a fine netsuke would have been a very important part of any quality sage tabako-ire ensemble. Netsuke are primarily collected today quite independent of other Japanese tobacciana, indeed a netsuke collector would be apt say that considering a netsuke part of a tobacciana collection is akin to considering a finely cut diamond part of a rock collection. On the other hand just as kiseru and kanagu are often collected today by afficiandos of Japanese metal work, tsutsu and tonkotsu are often collected today by netsuke collectors because of the quality and similarity of decoration. There are many types of netsuke, made out most every material imaginable, but a few types are particularly associated with pipe smoking.

Two of those types have already been mentioned, the occasional miniature but fully working flintlock gun mechanism (hiuchi-bako), and the more frequently seen suigarakke (or kurawa). The suigarakke was both a netsuke and a device to temporarily hold embers to light the kiseru. Most usually it was cast of brass in the concave form of a mokugyo (gong), a jingasa (a 'soldier's hat' although worn by many non soldiers, even women) or occasionally the more elaborate kabuto (a samurai battle helmet). Wooden, bone or ivory bowl shaped netsuke were also likely used at least occasionally as suigarakke.

While not specifically smoking related, most typically a netsuke for tabako-ire, would be an English muffin shaped manju style piece or the similarly shaped kagamibuta style which had a wide metal lid inset in the center. A commonly found ensemble style of the late 19th century typically had a kagamibuta style netsuke of either ivory or celluloid and a silver disk embossed with a dragon or other mythical animal anchoring a many threaded silver chain, with a decorative 'napkin ring' like fixed metal ojime, and a figured leather or brocade tabako-ire at the end.

A tonkotsu, the hard sided tobacco case, might typically be anchored by a netsuke of any type, including of the most popular three dimensional sculpted katabori style.

A Final Thought: In 18th and 19th century Japan five elements coincided to leave us today with some of the worlds finest craftsmanship and artwork in a very peculiar form: a richening economy; a population that universally smoked pipes; a rising merchant class with only limited alternatives to publicly demonstrate their wealth; and a remarkable group of artisans, some of whom were ultimately forced to turn to smoking articles when traditional work was denied them. These element converged to make pipes and pipe smoking accessories in pre-20th century Japan one of the most important ways for both men and women to enjoy and express their status, wealth and individuality both in the home and in public. Consequently we have left to us today perhaps the most remarkable and finest of pipes and pipe accessories to have ever been crafted. Equally remarkable, as popular as the kiseru was in the 18th and 19th century, with the coming of the 20th century the cigarette culture rapidly replaced that of the kiseru. Today it is said that many, perhaps most Japanese have no idea of kiseru but for occasional use in traditional theatrical and television drama and while one can see obvious adaptations of tabako-bon and tabako-ire to a world of cigarettes it may well be only the western collectors who recognize the derivation.

Back to Loring's page here

Yang (talk) 09:08, 20 August 2019 (CDT)