Calligraphy and Tea Ceremony: Zen Spirit and Hospitality

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Hanging scroll in the Tea Room

Hanging scrolls are oriental paintings or calligraphy works mounted by cloth or paper, and are also called as “Kakemono (掛物)” or “Kakejiku (掛け軸)” in Japanese. Hanging scrolls are called “Kakemono” in tea ceremonies, and play a particularly important role in the tea rooms as they are one of the most important tools for expressing the Zen philosophy and hospitality that underlie the tea ceremony. According to “Nanpouroku (南方録)”, a book published in the Edo period (1603-1867), hanging scrolls should reflect the hospitality of the host of the tea ceremonies the most among all the utensils used in the tea ceremony. The handing scroll in the tea room is not just an ornament, but is positioned as a symbol of the atmosphere of the tea ceremony and the spirit of the host.

Historical Background and Development of Hanging Scrolls

In the Muromachi period (1333-1573), tea ceremonies were held in large halls (書院), and a set of Chinese painting scrolles were used. However, as Wabicha (侘茶), a newer Japanese style of tea ceremony, became popular, tea ceremonies in small rooms became more important, and the size and content of the hanging scrolls changed accordingly. The space of the tea ceremony house was smaller than before. The atmosphere of the tea room was expressed by the hanging scrolles, reflecting the spirit of Zen and the aesthetic sense of Wabi.

The Beginning of Calligraphy Hanging Scrolls

The evolution of the tea ceremony can be traced back in the tea ceremony records. The records are memorandums recorded by the host and participants of a tea ceremony, and are an important source of information about the history of tea ceremonies. They provide a glimpse into the world of tea ceremonies by recording not only the date, time, and place of the tea ceremony, but also the utensils used, the menu, and the names of the participants. We can know what hanging scrolls were in the tea ceremonies.

The earliest record of calligraphy hanging scrolls in a tea room is from a tea ceremony held by “Jusiya Sogo (十四屋宗伍)” in Kyoto in 1537. “Jusiya Sogo” was a tea master who was a disciple of “Murata Juko (Murata Juko)”. He hung a calligraphic work by the Chinese Zen monk, “Hokkan-Kyokan (北礀居簡)”. Since then, calligraphy hanging scrolls have been widely used in the tea ceremonies, and are frequently documented in various tea ceremony records.

Torn Calligraphy Work written by Kido Chigu

The Chinese Zen monk Kido Chigu’s (虚堂智愚) calligraphy works were highly valued at Daitokuji Temple (大徳寺), which is closely associated with the tea ceremony. Kido Chigu was the closest Chinese monk to Daitokuji Temple, and was a direct mentor in China to “Nampo Jomyo (南浦紹明)”, the teacher of “Shuho Myocho (宗峰妙超)”, who founded Daitokuji Temple.

A scroll titled “Kodo Chigu Bokuseki Hogo (虚堂智愚墨蹟 法語)” was mentioned many times in tea ceremony records during the Momoyama period (1573-1600). It is a national treasure now housed in the Tokyo National Museum. It is commonly referred to as a “Torn Kido (破れ虚堂)”.

The sobriquet “Torn Kido (破れ虚堂)” is based on an episode in which the hanging scroll was once torn by a sword. It is said that a wealthy merchant named Daimonjiya (大文字屋) had owned this hanging scroll since the Momoyama period (1573-1600), but in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868), a staff of the merchant caused a disturbance and locked himself in their storehouse. He tore the scroll in the store house by a sword. The tored scroll was “Kodo Chigu Bokuseki Hogo (虚堂智愚墨蹟 法語)”.

The mounting of “Torn Kido (破れ虚堂)” was replaced to repaire during the Edo period (1603-1867), but the old mounting still remains. While the old mounting is brown-based and somewhat subdued, the current mounting is a deep color between light blue and green, and looks rather glamorous.

Transition to One-Line Calligraphy, Waka Poems, and Letters

Eventually, not only Chinese Zen monks’ hanging scrolls but also Japanese Zen monks’ hanging scrolls began to be hung. They used short one-line scripts and horizontal scripts in larger characters, which looked better in the dark tea rooms of the time, and which made it easier to understand the content and convey the host’s hospitality.

According to tea ceremony records, one-line calligraphy became especially common in the Edo period (1603-1868). By the Momoyama period (1573-1600), most sentences on calligraphy hanging scrolls were long, and there were few tea ceremony records explaining the content of calligraphy hanging scrolls, so the author was probably more important than the content of the sentences.

As calligraphy hanging scrolls became popular, Japanese Waka poems were also hung in tea ceremonies. At first, most of them were hung by Waka poets or people related to Waka. The first hung Waka poem was the “Ogurako shikishi,” said to have been written by Fujiwara no Teika. It was hung at the table of Takeno Shao’o, who was the renga master of Sen no Rikyu. The Ogurako-shikishi has larger characters than those of the Heian period (794-1185), and must have been displayed at the tea ceremony. It is thought that the “Ogura-shikishi (小倉色紙),” which is said to have been written by “Fujiwara Teika (藤原定家)”. It was chosen because Teika’s poetry theory had some similarities with the spirit of WabiCha (侘茶).

Later, letters were also hanged tea ceremonies. As time went on, they were also hung to deepen the content of the tea ceremony. These were often used not in the main room of the tea ceremony, but in the waiting room before the tea ceremony, called “Yoritsuki (寄付),” to suggest the main purpose of the tea ceremony.

Selection and Significance of Hanging Scrolls in Mordern

In modern times, although some people choose hanging scrolls to match their tea sets, it is more common to select utensils to match the hanging scrolls choosen to create the atmosphere of the tea ceremony. The aesthetic sense of harmonizing utensils of different shapes and materials has been passed down from generation to generation as a uniquely Japanese tradition. The calligraphy hanging scrolls and the content of the scrolls further enhance the fascination of the tea ceremony by conveying the atmosphere of the tea ceremony and the spirit of the host.

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