Ashiya-gama with a letter of Date Masamune



Iron kettle for tea ceremony
Japan, Muromachi period (1392-1573), 15th century
H. 6.5 in (16.5cm) – Ø body. 9.4 in (24cm) – Ø lip. 4.3 in (11cm)
- Scroll, ink on paper, mounting on silk
Date Masamune (1567-1636)
H. 19.9 in (50.5 cm) – W. 13.2 in (33.5 cm)
H. 43.7 in (111 cm) – W. 23.2 in (59 cm)
Formerly in the Manno Museum Collection, 0saka prefecture (currently closed)

Ashiya-gama is the name of a type of tea kettle which was made for 300 years from the end of Kamakura period until the beginning of Edo period. The name “Ashiya” comes from the production area in Fukuoka prefecture. Along with Tenmyō-gama, Ashiya-gama was known as the best tea kettle brand, and was highly valued. This tea kettle has a cintāmani (hōjyu) shape, a wish-fulfilling jewel within both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, with a hail surface motif (arare). The hail motif is a decorative pattern often seen on tea kettles. The hail patterns on this tea kettle are regular and of quite even size. Bulls are depicted in the two windows in the shape of a military leader’s fan. This motif was taken from the “Ten Bulls” subject frequently seen in Zen painting which expresses the way to Zen enlightenment. The bulls on this tea kettle are very dynamic, full of life, and exquisitely rendered. The lid is a type of Ichimonji, and the knob is in the shape of a Japanese plum flower. The patina of the lid could only have been achieved after use for an extended period of time. A letter by Date Masamune, the lord of the Sendai clan, accompanies this tea kettle.
Date Masamune (1567-1636) was a regional strongman in Japan, from the Azuchi-Momoyama period through the early Edo period. Heir to a long line of powerful daimyo in the Tōhoku region, he went on to found the modern-day city of Sendai. An outstanding tactician, he was made all the more iconic for his missing eye, and Date was often called dokuganryū, or the “one-eyed dragon”. It is said that he was well versed in all areas of Japanese culture including poetry, the tea ceremony, and cooking. He was a powerful lord, but the currents of the times didn’t allow him conquer the country. Instead, he supported the victor, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in the crucial battle of Sekigahara that took place between the latter and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The Edo period began because of Ieyasu’s victory in this battle. Masamune then served as a senior statesman for three shoguns until his death.
Masamune expanded trade in the otherwise remote, backwater Tōhoku region. He built many palaces and worked on many projects to beautify the region. Masamune’s greatest achievement was funding and backing one of Japan’s few journeys of distant diplomacy and exploration in this period. He ordered the building of the exploration ship Date Maru or San Juan Bautista, using foreign (European) ship-building techniques. He sent one of his retainers, Hasekura Tsunenaga, the Father Sotelo, and an embassy numbering 180 people on a successful voyage to establish relations with the Pope in Rome. This expedition visited such places as the Philippines, Mexico, Spain and Rome, making it the first Japanese voyage to sail around the world. Prior to this, Japanese lords had never funded this sort of venture.
Partial translation of the letter by Date Masamune, certified by Kenbun (Unknown): “ The teakettle was especially marvellous, and I was so happy. *****(Impossible to read) I will let it back when I comeback from the Capital. Sincerely, Masamune. (P.S) I want to see you as soon as possible during my stay. ***(Impossible to read, the receiver’s name)