It turns out that we do not get to see Kinkakuji in this episode, but rather Nobunaga’s rebuilt Azuchi castle – built not only to be a defensive structure, but also a testament to his power and wealth. The location of Azuchi Castle is not far from the capital of Kyoto, however, and was intended to safeguard the approaches into the city. As usual, more notes to follow after the jump.
I will not get into all the particulars of the manufacture of teaware, but it is important to keep in mind throughout the show that it takes place in an era before mass market manufacture. As a result, all items are still a product of individual hand craftsmanship, and the prevailing local resources and traditions. Japanese ceramic ware is intensely regionalized, and many of these historic styles survive today, passed down through family lines and by the foresight of the Japanese government in attempting to preserve traditional craftsmanship. Many websites exist that provide an excellent primer on the various styles of Japanese artisanal ceramics.
This episode in particular provides a couple of excellent examples of the tea ceremony’s important social role in facilitating communication – the first exchange Sasuke has with Sen no Soeki, and then the second, less formal ceremony later with Hideyoshi. Note that most importantly, the conversation carried on in each occurs at two levels.
We firstly have the ordinary level of verbal communication, simple frank talk in a private atmosphere… and then there is the nonverbal level of communication, where the selection of particular implements for the ceremony itself, and other body language cues are utilized to communicate a deeper message. And again, Sasuke illustrates a very impressive blend of both aesthete and warrior – able to read some of the political undercurrents, but at the same time, willing to draw his sword at a feast to defend the honour of his lord.
In this episode we are also introduced to Mori Ranmaru, one of Nobunaga’s vassals from the Mori Clan. He is notable for later committing seppuku in order to follow his master Nobunaga into death, and was considered something of a samurai ideal. Many historical sources also suggest that he and Nobunaga practiced some sort of shudo relationship (similar to the Greek tradition of pederasty).
We also get a bigger sense of Nobunaga’s ambitions – he is not a small man by any means. The historical Nobunaga was indeed quite the progressive as well – aside from his goal of uniting Japan under a single leader, he also instituted a sweeping set of reforms in all aspects of Japan. Japanese warfare moved away from a reliance on horse archery and relatively disorganized feudal levies into strong, highly-disciplined combined arms formations that utilized both long pikes and firearms. Under Nobunaga, positions were often awarded based on merit and productivity, and Nobunaga instituted a number of moves towards free market systems by breaking trade guild monopolies.
Hyouge Mono handles quite the superb balancing act; the characters never feel so exaggerated as to seem real or incompetent. The series’ portrayal of Nobunaga is probably the most compelling I have seen in a long while, and Sasuke’s conflict and compromise between the demands of warrior and aesthete is done in a very natural manner. In the next episode, we perhaps might get a more in-depth look at ceramic manufacture.