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An overview, glossary & bibliography
Copyright © 2001 & 2002 John C. Loring -- update 02/04/02
Contributed by Yang Forcióri

Tabako Kiseru Bon Ensem Tsutsu Ire Net Gloss Bib

Pipe smoking was never more popular then in 18th and 19th century Japan (in the 1840s nine million pounds of pipe tobacco shipped to Edo annually for retail consumption). It was shared by all classes, both sexes and was integrated into every private and public aspect of Japanese life, even the quintessential Japanese tea ceremony. Pipes and accessories were crafted by farmers and workers in their spare time for personal use, by ordinary craftsman for common use and by the finest of artisans for the wealthy. Today Japanese tobacciana of that past era is highly collectable both as tobacciana and as among the finest examples of Japanese lacquer, metal and small sculpture work. Most pieces sell in the three figure range but four and five figures are common, and six figures not unheard of. Articles have been written focusing on Japanese pipes and accessories as object d'art and on the artists/artisans that made them, but the emphasis of this paper will be on the artifacts of pipe smoking in 18th and 19th century Japan, and the terminology, development and integration of the same into the national culture. A glossary and bibliography focused on English language publications are provided as appendices. The pipes and accessories illustrated in this paper (double click on the indicated links) are absent advise otherwise, from my own collection and generally date to the 19th century. Given the spectacular pieces in the collections of others my initial intention was to use those, but upon reflection I have decided to use my far more modest pieces for the further purpose of showing what may be collected today on a limited budget. Lastly, a personal confession and explanation. I have a most difficult time remembering and keeping all the various Japanese names and terms in their proper places. Repeated repetition has helped me in this regard and I have used that devise herein. For those impossible readers who get things straight, and remember, at a glance, my apologies and jealousy. One other house keeping matter, for footnote/aside matters I use the convention of placing such in the main text within parenthesis using a smaller font.

Japanese Tobacco (kizami-tabako). Tobacco, in the form of cigars, was introduced into Japan in the 16th century by European traders, probably around 1561, and it appears that there were tobacco dealers in Japan as early as 1576. The initial reaction appears to have been one of horrified curiosity:

“The southern barbarians [Europeans] are setting fire to their stomachs”

but curiosity prevailed:

“[Lord Tokugawa] Ieyasu was pleased to ask us many questions about the gifts we had brought, such as the tobacco seeds and the salve made from tobacco. At the time, the people of Japan were enthusiastic users of such salves, and they were accustomed to carry small amounts of medicine about with them at all times, each pill, powder or salve for a different ailment, and each in its own portable flask or box.” 1601 Burguillos Report.

“[Smoking] originated in the country of the southern barbarians and was introduced to various countries. It is interesting to entertain guests with it. Materials are first shredded. A smoking pipe requires frequent cleaning. It could be a poison or a medicine … “ Taichu, Ryukyu Ohrai - 1603.

“Of late [1607] a thing called tobacco has been in fashion. It is said to come from Nan-ban [the Europeans]. Broad leaves are cut up and lighted, and the smoke is swallowed. … [1609], all classes of Japanese amuse themselves with it. It is said to be a remedy for all diseases. But on the other hand, cases have occurred of persons falling ill who had inhaled it, and as no medical work contains any directions for the treatment of such patients, no medicine could be administered to them.” Family Records of Saka Jiyau-chi-In, 1607 and 1609. (It might be noted that even today in Japan one does not ‘smoke’ tobacco but rather ‘drinks’ it – tabako wo nomu).

and quickly lit a fire:

“Of late, a new herb from distant lands across the sea has come to our country … a medicine not listed in the herbals of ancient China, and one which remained untasted by the first father of herb-lore, old Entei. Although we hear the name of this singular plant, we know not how to transcribe it, but persons burn its leaves and consume the smoke thereof. It is said that if a sick man tastes this smoke he is restored to glowing health, and that those who consume it may hope to out live even that paragon of longevity, the sage Koso himself. Whether they know of these lofty matters or not, among the common folk, lewd and learned alike, there are none who do not favor this herb. As for the vogue with which the herb enjoys today, its like is not to be found in the annals of times past. In the proverbs of our land, it has been said that the hearts of people in this world are as quick to change as the colors of fading flowers. It is not so in this case, for whether gentle or simple, cleric or lay, man or woman, there is no one who does not enjoy the herb. In their lives it is like unto the candle, without the light of which we cannot see the banquet spread before us on a clear night of autumn. Compared to wine, it would excel the sweetest vintages of Amano in Nara. Compared with tea, it would put the most savory leaves of Toga-no-o or Uji to shame. Persons who know nothing of one another, who come from different worlds and walks of life, can nonetheless find mutual ground and links of friendship in their common liking for the herb, and those with a taste for poetry can find in it matter to inspire them. Wherever one may walk, there is no quarter of the city unscented by it fragrant smoke. It is not limited to the capital alone, but known even among rude, outlandish folk in distant parts. … In our world today, much is said, but little is known, of true virtue and learning. Alas, what can I do but gather my companions about me, to forget such a world in their lively company? Since I alone have yet to taste the herb, my comrades jest at my expense, and one day I may yet make bold to adopt a fashion which all enjoy …” Reflections of Imperial Prince Toshihito, Kyoto 1609. “1605. This year tobacco was brought in the ships of the Nan-ban men, and was sown. The inhabitants of the capital vied with each other in inhaling it, and it eventually spread over the whole empire.” Tou-ya San-zhin.

In that first decade of the 17th century, two smoking clubs were organized, the Brambles and the Leather-Breeches. Apparently made up of young men, a rowdy rivalry developed disrupting the general community. In 1609 seventy or more of the fellows were arrested, four or five being executed, the remaining pardoned.

Although much is often written about early attempts by authorities to ban smoking or alternatively limit tobacco farming it is eminently clear that by the mid 17th century kizami-tabako, finely shredded or chopped tobacco, smoked dry in a pipe called a kiseru, was well entrenched in Japan with prohibition efforts reduced to attempts to limit smoking to private venues and tobacco cultivation to land unsuitable for rice and other vegetable production. But by the 18th century even the Shogun openly smoked in public.

Tobacco was first grown in eastern Japan, the town of Nagasaki and the provinces of Yamashiro and Kai being early locations. But in short order cultivation spread throughout all of the islands. Because of the varied climate and soil conditions it was soon found that the same tobacco grown in each province differed. Thus over time tobacco from Mito became known as daimyo, or lord, because of its aromatic high quality, while sanchu-kizami, or mountain tobacco, grown in Mimasaka was favored by women smokers because reputedly it didn’t roughen the throat, and the strong, easily combustible tobacco cultivated in Nanbu was popular with fisherman. With well over seventy distinct Japanese varieties of kiziami-tabako it is little wonder that 18th and 19th century Japanese entertainment included tobacco 'tasting' parties (a late 19th century Japanese writer lists over thirty places where the ‘best tobacco’ is grown concluding “there are other noted tobacco growing places in Japan, but they are too numerous to be mentioned here.”). It is said that tobacco in Japan was quite expensive, that geisha would leave unfinished packets of tobacco at tea houses as valued tips, but that observation appears to date to the 17th century for by the 18th and 19th century, given the wide spread use by all classes, it most certainly was not generally the case.

Initially, Japanese smokers prepared their own tobacco with households having their own special knives and shredding boards. But with the increasing official acceptance during the 17th century, specialized shops took over this function. There were a number of preparation styles and there were shops in every city devoted exclusively to preparing kizami-tabako and of course selling it in tatohgami, folded paper pouches (in modern day Japan tatohshi rather then tatohgami is the commonly used term). These shops as early as the late 16th century were distinguished by their distinctive, kaban, shop signs. By the 18th century beyond the shops, there were retail tobacco salesmen that went door-to-door as well as street peddlers hawking tobacco.

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Yang (talk) 08:21, 20 August 2019 (CDT)