WHAT'S THE ONISHI FAMILY ?

 Can you find a common characteristic in these Kyoto street names:Kamanza,Kiyamachi,takeyamachi?

 These names come from the vocation of people living around these areas in Kyoto.

 Sanjo-Kamanza, west of Sanjo-Karasuma,was an area of iron foundries.
Kamanza is written in 釜 and 座,meaning kettle and craft guild.
In the 15th century,Momoyama era, 72 castmen were living in that area. They had special rights to deal in iron crafts. They made pots and pans for daily use, gongs and lanterns for regious use, and utensils for tea ceremony.

 Just two families are left owadays. One of them, the Onishi family, is still maiking kettles for tea ceremony.

 It was 400 years ago that Mr.Onishi's ancestors begun to live in that area. At the location where the family has been living and working, Onishi Seiwemon museum was opened in November 1998. The Onishi family has counted 16 generations up to now. The 16 generation, Mr.Onishi Seiwemon, the director of the museum, says that his family was in danger of dying out several times. He wants to pass down the family's history and convey the interest of kettle making to people today.

 You may have heard about the Sen family,the grand tea masters and descendants of Sen-no Rikyu, the founder of tea ceremony. There are ten families making utensils only for the tearoom. Some of them date back to Rikyu. They are known as the ten craft-families for the Sen family. Each family makes particular utensils from metal, clay, paper, fabric lacquer and bamboo. These families play a significant role in preservation of the history and technique of the traditional high quality. Japanese art and crafts.

 Meantime they create new designs by themselves and by order of the tea masters. They still maintain a close relationship with the grand tea masters and each other. The Onishi family is one of these ten, working with metal and regarded as Kamashi, 釜師, the kettle makers.

 It takes three months to make a kettle for the tearoom. Mr.Onishi puts hot iron of 1550℃, between ceramic molds for the inside and the outside. He engraves pictures or patterns on the outside molds. After cooling down, the kettle is removed from the molds, and heated again at 800℃, which makes the iron stronger. Looking at this process on the video at the museum I realized that I had never imaged how much hard physical work sustains a delicate moment in a tearoom.

 For the most of tea gatherings the kettle stays in one place, on the fire. Beautiful tea bowls and the tea containers may attract your eyes by being moved, whereas the kettle has a significant role of its pure existence in quietness.

 In tearoom it is good manners not to wear a watch. The only a clock in a tearoom is the kettle, which lets you know the best timing for a bowl of good tea. When the guests enter the tearoom, the kettle has cold water in it. So the host makes the water hot by adding some charcoal into the fire pit. The kettle, which is sitting still, begins to gush out steam and makes more and more noise. This sound is named Matsukaze, 松風, which means wind through pine trees. What a beautiful poetic name for the sound of boiling water!

 The sound changes gently when the host takes hot water adds cold water. You will forget your daily busy life in this sensitive moment of tranquility. Mr.Onishi makes kettles for this very moment.

 Moreover the kettle's important role is to provide good water for tea. Being used for a long time, iron gets a film of water inside, which will neutralize the water adding acid or alkali. When you see good change of color inside, you will know that the tea will be tasty made from this kettle.

 Also the outside color changes naturally. Because of the passing of time and because of the good care by its owners, kettle look very colorful. Like people, kettles get old in various ways. Mr.Onishi makes not only new kettles but also repairs old kettles. He says that it is possible to make tea with kettle hundred of years old.

 The museum helps us to understand the whole process of the work on a kettle, with videos and displayed kettles made by Onishi Seiwemon, from former generations until now. Along with this, the museum offers a bowl of green tea and sweets. The museum plans seasonal exhibitions and events such as special night opening (till 9:00) during Gion Matsuri festival, 14-16 and 24th july.
The museum also provide special gathering reqularly to introduce kettles. At this event you can talk to Mr.Onishi in person. And you can touch kettles, which will be displayed in the showcase. Though you must wear gloves, it is quiet impressive looking at a several hundreds of year old kettles very close. Please ask the museum about details.

Translated by M. Yoshioka



Openfrom 10:00 am to 4:30 pm (admission until 4:00 pm).
Closedevery Monday, new years holiday, and terms for changing displays.
LocationNakagyo-ku Sanjo Shinmachi Nishi-iru Kamanza-cho
Access6 minute walk from subway Karasuma-Oike station No.6 exit.
Contact(075)221-2881
AdmissionAdult \800. Tea and sweets \500.

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