Sunday, March 22, 2009

More on Tea Ceremony and Luzon Jars

In order to further investigate the uniquely high value of Luzon Jars in Japan, we can explore deeper into the philosophy of Chanoyu or Tea Ceremony, which is known as the Way of Tea (Chado).

As noted earlier, there are to my knowledge only brief notes that explain the value of Luzon Jars in terms of their unique properties in preserving tea -- properties that are sometimes described in magical terms. However, I have also explored the possible spiritual and philosophical background that could have added to the great price tags placed on these wares.

Tea was used by Ch'an Buddhists in China to help them stay awake during meditation practice. Tradition states that Eisai, a Zen master, first brought tea from China to Japan in the 12th century. However it was not until 15th century that we see something similar to the modern tea ceremony when it was introduced by Zen monk Murata Shuko.

Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) developed much of the basis of Chado, the philosophy behind the tea ceremony. Chado combines elements of Zen, Taoism and Shintoism.

The tea ceremony is a spiritual practice that encourages social interaction together with appreciation and contemplation of the simple and austere aesthetic. The ritual restored and renewed the spirit bringing inner peace and intimacy with other participants.

In Taoism, renewal takes place during the jiao ritual during the opening of temples or at regular 12 year intervals. Renewal, both spiritual and physical, is also a goal of Taoist alchemy.

Shinto belief in renewal is seen in the process of periodic rebuilding of structures. The Ise Temple, for example, is rebuilt from scratch every 20 years. A similar rebuilding practice is used with ancestral origin houses in Southeast Asia and New Guinea -- a process made easily possible by the use of wood architecture.

The tea-room or Sukiya was designed to be simple and clean -- an Abode of Vacancy. "The tea-room (the Sukiya) does not pretend to be other than a mere cottage — a straw hut, as we call it," wrote Kazuko Okakura in "The Book of Tea." And it was also ephemeral and individualistic. The Sukiya is rebuilt again and again.

Between the portico, where guests arrive, and the tea-room is a tea garden. Of special interest is the "paradise garden" known as shima "island" after the three Taoist isles of the blest. In Chinese these were known as Penglai, Fangchang and Yingchou, while in Japan they were called respectively Horai, Hojo and Eishu. Sometimes a third island known as Koryo was added. In Chinese, these islands were known as Sandao 三島 "Three Islands."

Taoism's utopia provided the right milieu for those entering into the tea-room. The isles were known for their natural beauty and harmony and for the happy, long lives of its inhabitants -- a good recipe for contemplation and socialization. Paradise was also linked with renewal and restoration as tea-lovers made a New Year's Day decoration called "Horai," after the mountain of the immortals consisting of a pile of seafood, fruit and vegetables. According to the daimyo Kiyomasa, the ideal New Year's beverage known as toso should be made from a waterfall in Horai.

Period of Luzon Jar trade

Arai Hakuseki's narrative on the captivity of Pere Sidotti written in 1710 suggests that Luzon Jars were imported into Japan as early as the Sung and Yuan dynasties. Definitely it appears that these wares were in use during the early Muromachi period (1334—1467) and sometime between between 1385 and 1440 such pots were imported into Okinawa and the pottery-making techniques were copied to produce them locally.

During the Yuan dynasty, the traveler Wang Dayuan mentions a location south of Taiwan and north of Mindoro and Butuan known as Sandao 三島 "Three Islands." The old empire of Sanfotsi mysteriously vanishes during Yuan times, but was in the same general location.

Y. Tanaka in Tokiko (1854) states that Luzon was part of a geographical region known as Mishima 三島 由 "Three Islands." Notice that the first two characters of Sandao and Mishima are the same, with the last character added to Mishima to provide the last syllable of shima "island." Mishima is thus a Japanese translation of Sandao. While I do not know whether this Sandao or Mishima were ever explicitly equated with the Taoist paradise isles, there is an interesting earlier notice that has some bearing.

In 1067, Ssuma Kuang (Sima Guang) locates the kingdom of Fusang west of the Weilu Current i.e., the southeastern origin of the Kuroshio Current, a location that largely agrees with that of Sandao and Mishima. As I have noted before, many Chinese texts basically equate Fusang with Penglai, the paradise island known in Japanese as Horai. Also, Japanese texts may do the same as suggested by ethnographer Yanagita Kunio.

As discussed earlier in this blog, the Chinese linked Sandao, the isles of the immortals, with a special type of jar known as hu that were used in sacred wine rituals during the Shang Dynasty. Wine became less popular after the Shang, but the rituals continued on in some circles and they were also preserved in the Taoist literature. The immortals who lived in Sandao were themselves known as avid drinkers. The islse were so connected with the hu jar that they were often visualized as resembling the jar in shape and possessed alternate names with "-hu" added as a suffix.

Japan also had its own Shinto tradition of sacred jars. These were used in the ancient ritual of tasting the new rice during the harvest festival. Interestingly a somewhat similar ritual was used by the Shogun during the season of new tea. Jars were also used for the Shinto rice wine ritual known as naorai.

So, we can surmise that if Mishima did indeed represent the three isles of the immortals with Luzon as Horai, then the ancient jars from that land would have indeed made appropriate vessels for the sacred tea ceremony. They would have brought great prestige to the owners as they possessed all the classic linkages. Luzon Jars could be viewed then as a type of "Holy Grail" of the tea ceremony connected, as it would have been thought, with the historical paradise lands found in both Shinto and Taoist belief. So it comes as no surprise that during the time of the Spanish governor Antonio de Morga in the 17th century, that Japanese merchants were willing to pay fantastic sums for old pots that seemingly had no worth to the European.

Apparently though they had lost their worth in Luzon itself. They must have at one time been handed down as heirlooms as they were preserved by the people mostly as relics. In Pampanga, they were known by the name of the local sand, balas, that was used as temper during the firing process. These balasini were very rare but apparently still in existence during Bergano's time in the 18th century, so it could be that some people still valued them enough to preserve them as part of their inheritance.

Wang Dayuan writes that merchants from Santao frequently visited the ports of South China during the Yuan Dynasty, and in the early years of the Ming Dynasty we hear that the kingdom of Luzon sent an envoy to Okinawa. I have argued that earlier kings from this region followed a policy of attraction in their quest to guard the trade routes. Could the hyping and selling of the once-sacred balasini constitute a new twist in that age-old game?

Paul Kekai Manansala


Kōdansha. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, Tokyo: Kodansha, 1983, 111.

Okakura, Kakuzō, and Sōshitsu Sen. The Book of Tea, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2005.

Sasaki, Sanmi, Shaun McCabe, and Iwasaki Satoko. Chado: the way of tea : a Japanese tea master's almanac / Sasaki Sanmi ; translated from the Japanese by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko ; foreword by Sen Sôshitsu XV, Boston: Tuttle, 2005.