Episode 2 begins by introducing us to Sen no Soeki, who seems to be standing in for Nobunaga`s historical tea master Sen no Rikyū. The writers likely have decided to use a different, less well-known name, as most famous individuals in Japanese history had several, or have created a fictionalized counterpart to better fit the intended story. In any case, Soeki’s influence is at least comparable to Rikyū’s, and even his appearance is similar.
As usual, due to the density of the material being covered, I have opted to highlight my more important points in bold. Specifically Japanese terms are italicized. More notes after the jump.
Tea masters often could and did become figures of notable influence in many Japanese noble courts, due to their roles as confidants for their masters and their privileged position of being present at important meetings between a lord and his vassals – a tea ceremony made a perfect setting for some honest heart-to-heart, and a tea master was perfectly placed to listen in on any juicy details that got passed on. Rikyū was no exception, but also had a lasting impact on the way that tea ceremonies were performed. In particular, as Nobunaga’s tea master, Rikyū popularized the usage of domestically made Japanese teaware in the wabi-sabi style, rather than more ostentatious imported Chinese pottery, and the performance of tea ceremonies in smaller and intimate tatami-floored tea rooms.
The rooms popularized by Rikyū are notable for a few things – as Sasuke observes, it is not possible to bring a sword into the teahouse – in essence, prohibiting weapons, fights, or assassination attempts within the tea ceremony. Secondly, noble and commoner alike, regardless of rank, would have to crawl on their knees to enter the tea room.
This ultimately made the tea ceremony a safe environment where every man was a social equal. This made the tea ceremony an incredibly powerful tool of social interaction.
As mentioned in the previous post on this series, the tea ceremony was brought over to Japan from China in the early 10th century, which accounts for the divergent evolution that Japanese tea traditions went through. The tea methods, types, breeds, and traditions imported to Japan during this period were those prevalent in the reigning Song Dynasty – namely, the use of powdered tea – tea leaves were dried and ground into a powder for ease of transport, then was mixed with a whisk in hot water to reconstitute the full drink. Chinese tea-drinking would eventually shift to loose-leaf teas, where the whole tea leaves were simply placed in hot water, but powdered teas remained the dominant form in Japan. Hence, unlike Chinese traditions, Japanese tea ceremonies have a great deal of etiquette placed in the mixing of tea (Chinese tea traditions place emphasis, conversely, on rinsing the tea leaves).
The political importance of the tea ceremony is brought out more strongly as well this episode – we learn that Sasuke has been able to marry into a much wealthier family due to his talent at navigating the complex etiquette behind the tea ceremony; etiquette that is lost on his brother-in-law. Historically, many noble traditions and protocols evolve by nature to be exclusionary and unintuitive, and the Japanese tea ceremony is no exception – Sasuke’s ability is therefore a big asset to his new extended family in terms of opening up opportunities and chances to meet with those of higher station.
Shino teaware specifically refers to a particular tradition of craftsmanship that utilizes a white glaze, and the example we are given this episode is a fine specimen that exhibits the wabi-sabi style – simple shapes that attempt to communicate a feeling of rawness and transience, rather than a stiff and rigid form. The continued use of CG for the teaware is an interesting choice; it actually works out quite well to communicate the heft and weight of the various pieces.
Sasuke’s comparison between the paleness of his beautiful wife’s skin and the transluscency of the tea bowl is a classic and erotic metaphor for Shino teaware, and the tradition in particular tends to be associated with femininity.
Believe it or not, Nobunaga’s helmet in this shot here has historical precedent – although this particular design was not actually worn by Nobunaga. In fact, this bespactacled, demon’s-leer armet was actually a personal piece of armour owned by King Henry VIII of England.
It is still on display today and is maintained by the Royal Armoury of England. I believe this piece may still be on display in the Tower of London. Note as well the western influence in Nobunaga’s nanban-do armour, and the barding on his horse – very European in style.
In fact, Hyouge Mono paints a very interesting picture of the victorious general of the Sengoku Period – could it be that rather than any sort of overarching nationalistic vision, rather, the only thing that the “Demon Lord” actually wants is just… teaware?
This episode also captures, very well, the classical tensions faced between duty, family, and honour, and again draws on the white Shino theme prevalent throughout this episode. Here, rather than eroticism, white is used to symbolize death – throughout most of East Asia, white is considered the colour of death and funerals.
An interesting aside is traditional Japanese weddings have the bride dress in a white kimono, symbolizing her “death” to her old family and new life with another family.
On one final note, this episode has allowed for enough evidence to actually pin down Sasuke’s identity. Furuta Sasuke seems to be patterned after the historical figure of Furuta Oribe, or Furuta Shigenari. Most notably, Shigenari is known for establishing the Oribe school of the Japanese tea ceremony and the associated Oribe style of teaware, but was later put to death as a traitor by the Tokuwaga Shogunate.
There are a number of similarities between him and Sasuke – not only was he both a samurai and a tea master, he was also married to Nakagawa Kiyohide’s younger sister, and the Oribe style of teaware utilizes many of the same earthy browns and jade greens that Sasuke has been wearing consistently throughout the series so far. Hopefully Sasuke’s final fate is happier than Shigenari’s!
If my eyes don’t decieve me, next episode seems like we’ll have a chance to visit Kyoto and take a look at Kinkaku-ji, the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion.