Transformation in the Aesthetics of Tea Culture in Japan

Maetani, Masumi 前谷真寿美
Supervisor: Dr. P.R. Stanley-Baker

This study examines the transformation in the aesthetics of tea culture in Japan during the period between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries. For this study, I have chosen Muqi and Yujian’s Eight Views of Xiaoxiang, because several works of these two painters are preserved in Japan.

Firstly, I explore Muqi and Yujian’s biographies and their style of painting through Wu Taisu’s Songzhai meipu and some other Chinese materials. Muqi’s background of his Zen circle and his painting method which used yipin style and the gradation of ink colour can be observed. For Yujian, his excellence is demonstrated by his ability in three aspects: painting, composing poems and calligraphy. Additionally, he had a keen eye for nature. These aspects all appear in his landscape paintings. Through Japanese material, Tōhaku gasetsu, I observed a reversal in the assessment of Muqi and Yujian which occurred in the late sixteenth century.

To examine the reception of Muqi and Yujian by Japanese tea society, I divide the period between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries into three parts. The first part corresponds to the fourteenth century which I term “the dawning of tea ceremony.” For this part, I chose Japanese materials Butsunichi-an komotsu mokuroku, and Ōraimono. Muqi’s good reputation is observed. The tea gathering of this period was showy and extravagant ceremony. The ornamentation for this ceremony required that multiple paintings and art works be displayed together.

In the second part, which corresponds approximately to the fifteenth century, I focus on “Shoin no cha.” Muqi and Yujian’s Eight Views of Xiaoxiang are recognized in Gyomotsu on’e mokuroku, Muromachi-dono gyokō okazariki and Kundaikan sayū chōki. Ashikaga shogunate, and the dōbōshū were at the centre of artistic activities of this period. Muromachi-dono gyokō okazariki demonstrates its significance in the exhibition arranged by the noted connoisseur, Nōami. Ashikaga shogunate displayed his cultural hegemony by the exhibitions of masterpieces of Chinese paintings and art. The tea ceremony during this period seemed mainly to be held in the large space with an elegant exhibition.

The last part corresponds to the middle of the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries. I focus on “Sōan no cha.” This part demonstrates the mature period of tea ceremony and the developed concepts used in selecting tea utensils. Consulting Yamanoue Sōji ki, we can see that Yujian’s paintings were evaluated as being higher than Muqi’s. In Sōji’s critical assessment, Muqi’s paintings were assessed as being out of date. Sōkyū’s unique expressions are also noticeable. Behind the fashion of the tea ceremony exists the patronage of the circle of rengashi, Zen monks and rich merchant in Sakai. It is also observed that the poetics of renga seem to have had an important influence on tea ceremony. In addition, the tea ceremonies arranged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi show the political and economical powers which were attached to a tea ceremony.

Through this study, the changing context of tea ceremony which associated with a developing aesthetic sense is explored.