It is probably fair to say that every 19th century home and shop in Japan had at least one tray, box or chest to hold pipe smoking accessories. The tray, box or chest dates back to the 17th century and is uniformly said to have developed from kau-bon, trays used for the kodo, incense, ceremony. In all forms they are referred to as tabako-bon but ceremonial kau-bon style tabako-bon are some times referred to as shiyo-in tabako-bon. It should also be noted that prior to the 19th century in some parts of Japan, e.g. Nagasaki, a tabako-bon might be referred to simply as a kau-bon.
The tabako-bon at a minimum contained a small, often covered, hi-ire (a small hibachi) to hold charcoal for lighting the pipe (on a kau-bon this would be called a kau-ro) and a sometimes covered tubular (usually bamboo) container (hai-otoshi, haifuki, or togeppoh), perhaps with a film of water in the bottom, to hold ash and waste (today haifuki or togeppoh would be the more commonly used terms, the latter being the name of the place where a Buddhist priest started to use a bamboo tube for ash in the mid 18th century – on a kau-bon the equivalent receptacle would be called a taki-gara-ire) and traditionally two kiseru (while one would think this represents one for the host and the other for the guest, it is said that the two are intended to represent the pair of incense tongs customarily found on a kau-bon). Other accessories might include a shallow covered box (like that used for incense) to hold kizami-tabako or a tatohgami of the same, metal tongs to pick up a charcoal fragment, a pick to clean the pipe bowl, tough, tight twists of paper (koyori) or rice straw for cleaning, and a small concave metal 'bowl' to temporarily hold an ember for lighting. Early paintings and prints from before the 19th century typically show either a footed, round or rectangular smoking tray with a shallow rim or alternatively a long rectangular shallow tray with a long, tall rectangular handle with hooks for two kiseru, each style holding a cylindrical (wood?) hi-ire with a tall "u" shaped handle or an open top ceramic hi-ire, a shorter cylindrical hai-otoshi and a shallow square shaped dish/box, probably used to hold kizami-tabako (in at least one painting there appears to be a layer of kizami-tabako at the bottom the dish/box) or tatohgami.
When shopping it was customary to chat and smoke a kiseru with the shop keeper and to that end the shop would have a fairly plain small open wood tabako-bon half of which was lined with copper to act as an uncovered hi-ire, and a tubular bamboo node hai-otoshi. More elaborate versions of a shop tabako-bon might be carved with bold calligraphy identifying the store. The tabako-bon was no doubt also a fixture of inns and tea houses but these were more likely to have been more akin to those found in a home of similar status.
In the ordinary home there might be nothing more then that which would be found at a shop with a few more accessories, or perhaps instead of an open box tabako-bon it would be tray or a home made chest. And if an early 20th century report is correct it might well have served multiple duties:
“In nearly every house is a receptacle filled with ashes in which is buried a burning coal. Over this water is heated for the tea and on cold days the hands are warmed, but the chief service seemed the providing of a convenience for the smoker. The pipe and mouthpiece are of metal, the stem a reed of some kind. The tobacco is light-colored, finely cut, very dry, and very mild. The bowl will hold a ball of tobacco the size of a small pea, and after filling it and lighting it from the coal one or two whiffs consume it all. Even one smoke will often suffice, though the pipe may be filled a few times for successive smokes.” E.S.N. Morse, Japan Day by Day, 1917.
In the wealthier home however, the tabako-bon and accessories, as one might expect, were more elaborate and in several varieties, and most of all in keeping with the formalities, as this excerpt from a late 17th/early 18th century code of manners suggests:
“A guest should not carry his own tobacco [upon entering a host’s house on invitation]. He is to smoke the tobacco which has been prepared for guests by the host and which has been placed in the tray, regardless of its quality. A guest should not smoke until his host has entered the room, When the host offers tobacco, the guest should at first refuse to accept it, saying, ‘After you.’ This refusal should be made two or three times in the same way as is customarily observed when sake or tea is offered. Then the host should pick up a kiseru and remove the guard. After wiping the kiseru, the host should then offer it to his guest, saying, ‘Please enjoy smoking with this kiseru.’ If the tobacco is of good quality, the guest is to praise it. After taking a puff or two he is to replace the guard on the kiseru and put it in front of him. Upon his departure he is to wipe the pipe clean with a paper handkerchief and return it to the tobacco tray. However, when the host notices the guest cleaning it he is to say, ‘Please leave it as it is.’ Should the host be the guest’s supervisor or boss [or elderly], the guest should have the good manners to refuse the kiseru even if it is offered, saying ,’Tamaezu’ (‘I am too humble a person to accept it’).” Shin-mi Rau-zhin, Yaso Okina Mukashi Gatari [I cannot help but add that every time I read this passage I wonder how many silent insults were given by failing to praise the tobacco and how many silent retorts followed by allowing the guest to finish cleaning the kiseru.]
As indicated by the foregoing pipe smoking was an integral part of the tea ceremony within the century of its introduction in Japan. For that ceremony one would probably find a seemingly simple tray, most likely in the shiyo-in tabako-bon, incense tray style, holding a ceramic uncovered hi-ire on the left, a hai-otoshi with a bit of water inside on the right, a tatohgami of kizami-tabako in the center, and a pair of kiseru. If there were several participants there might well be as many such trays, each a bit different but still harmonious with the whole. Upon closer inspection one might well discover that each piece of the ensemble is a significant work of art. The following description from a contemporary tea master, Gary Cadwallader, hints at the quiet complexities:
“The hi’ire… function is to hold a small lit charcoal with which to light the kiseru. A small but perfectly shaped section of charcoal, about the size of a thumb joint is lit and set at a slight angle in a peak of carefully formed and smoothed ash, to give the kiseru easy access. His care and skill in creating this miniature landscape … shows the host’s frame of mind. More important than the exact form is the state of the charcoal when used. If the hi’ire is prepared too soon and left, a deep layer of ash will build up on the surface of the charcoal, making lighting up unpleasant. So the hi’ire is a real test of the host’s practical and aesthetic knowledge. … [The] container for kizami is a large sheet of heavy paper, folded like an incense packet [a tatogami tabako-ire] … [You, as the guest then takes one of the two kiseru and] roll a ball of [kizami], not too loose nor too tight. Upturn the bowl of the kiseru over the charcoal and inhales until the kizami is lit. One only gets another couple of puffs. When finished, pick up the bamboo tube [haifuki] and tap the kiseru gently on the edge, then return the tube to the tray.”
Beyond the deceptively simple tabako-bon for tea ceremonies, the Japanese well-to-do home would also contain several tobako-bon in the form of small chests and quite identifiable as a pipe smoking accessory. These tabako-bon were for both personal use and to entertain visitors (indeed one 19th century print shows a semi circle of nine seated women, each with an elegant and different lacquered tabako-bon before her). Rather than open boxes they were miniature chests (sometimes referred to as tabako-dansu) often with finely decorated, covered and matched metal hi-ire and hai-otoshi; metal handles or insets for carrying the bon that continued the design; hooks or insets to hold one or usually two kiseru; and two or more drawers to hold tatohgami and pipe tools. Typically the kiseru (almost always rao-kiseru) associated with a tabako-bon were 10" to 12" (or about 2" to 5" longer then a kiseru one would carry when going out of the house). The chest itself was most often either of fine grained woods or would be finely lacquered (most often black with gold design) with some qualifying as being among the finest examples of Japanese lacquer work. Variations of tabako-bon of this style include formal, and often quite beautiful 'picnic' boxes without side drawers or pipe hooks; elongated narrow boxes of a plainer sort intended to rest by a sleeping mat; chests with additional drawers to hold writing implements (brush, ink blocks, paper etc); and larger multi drawered chests with a removable tabako-bon.
In short, given that one of the primary purposes of a tabako-bon in a wealthier home was to honor and impress guests, the tabako-bon of the 19th century Japan was likely among that home's finest possessions. It follows naturally that they are quite collectable today.
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