Kashima :
Thank you very much for accommodating my wish today. I've been very much looking forward to discuss letters and calligraphies with you. First of all, could you please tell us what triggered your interest in letters and documents?
Masuda :
It goes back to my university years, when I was around 20 years old. I was studying calligraphy then. At that time, I've got to know a monthly study group on letters gathering at Tokyo National Museum, so I participated and found it interesting. Every meeting was so delightful that I attended almost all classes. I met Professor Hatano Yukihiko there. It was truly enlightening for me. I learned how to appreciate calligraphy and structure thoughts from him. In one word he is a beloved teacher throughout my life.
Kashima :
I, too, have been influenced by Professor Hatano so much. I do not think I would have been able to continue this job without meeting him. Particularly the way he lived his life was fascinating. I wish he would have lived longer.
Masuda :
It was often discussed in the study meeting at Tokyo National Museum that letters is the most interesting subject among other calligraphies like kohitsu or bokuseki. We talked this all the time, so I became more and more drawn into the world of letters. As it has been said from ancient times that "the writing is the man", letters in particular reflect the historical background, circumstances, status, a hobby, and also one's health condition, of which appeal is immeasurable. Moreover, there's a fun of reasoning as letters are quite private.
Kashima :
I see. So, there are lots of funs in letters. Now, I have a specific question. There is a famous feudal lord called Date Masamune. Other than letters, I recall there are also tanzaku or kaishi on which he wrote poetry. Do you think that the letters are more interesting in comparison with other documents as such?
Masuda :
I think so. As the volume of letters left is much greater than others, certainly they are more weighted to understand Masamune's personality. Having said that, the poetry – possibly his farewell poem - about cherry blossoms written on a piece of paper in the Hatano Library is excellent as both a poem and calligraphy. It was Professor Hatano’s favorite piece and displayed at the exhibition of calligraphy by Date Masamune in Sendai City Museum. There was an episode that Professor Hatano denied the request for donation of the piece by the museum because he loved it so much. (Laughs)
Kashima :
Is that so (Laughs)? Would you tell us the meaning of the poem?
Masuda :
Well, it was written in his latest years and when and where was confirmed. Despite the fact that Masamune was attacked by a disease and prepared himself to die, he needed to head to Edo for the 'alternate attendance'. He wrote a poem expressing his sad feeling that this might be the last time he would see cherry blossoms in Sendai. In fact, he passed away at Sakurada Yashiki in Edo in 1636, having a visit by Iemitsu of the third Tokugawa Shogun. It is the true farewell poem to this world. Quite a touching episode this is.
Kashima :
Yes, it is, really. Even a feudal lord of the Sengoku period shared the human feelings with us.
Masuda :
Indeed. Furthermore, Masamune had quite complicated feelings. During Hideyoshi's invasion of Odawara, he stayed in Sendai as a lord of Tohoku area and did not participate in the war, which enraged Hideyoshi extremely. After the battle in Odawara ended, Masamune went to appoligize to Hedeyoshi wearing in white clothing and carrying a cross on his back. This was the costume to show his readiness to die. It is said that Hideyoshi tapped Masamune's neck with a stick and forgave him, saying, "If you were a little later, your neck would have been separated." I guess that Hideyoshi was cheated on purpose, although he perfectly understood the intension of Masamune’s dandified performance (Laughs).
Kashima :
That is an amazing story. I assume there are still many anecdotes about Masamune, however, could you please move onto interpretations of these historical documents? It would be wonderful, if you would tell us other interesting stories associated with them.
Masuda :
OK. Let's take a look at these pieces. These two scrolls hanged are both letters of Masamune. The right one with the egg shaped signature cannot to be identified to whom it was written, however, the content is interesting. It started with showing appreciation for the letter he received, and followed to ask for the guts of an abalone.
Kashima :
Oh, did he? I didn't imagine he knew the taste of the guts of an abalone.
Masuda :
Yes. Masamune is a gourmet. The letter then continues that the gut of an abalone is the best side dish to a sake drink in summer. This egg-shaped signature seems to be used for close people. Another letter on the left was written in almost the same period, however, the shape of signature is a wagtail. This signature was probably intended to people outside of his domain. It addressed to Inaba Awaji no kami and began with appreciating his visit of the previous day, then inviting him to Masamune’s place saying flowers in the garden were blooming, if he doesn't mind coming again. Presumably it was an invitation of tea ceremony. In a postscript Masamune mentioned that he also invited Kanamori Izu no kami and asked for his attendance. 10th of March in that era may be around mid-April in the present calendar.
Kashima :
Cherry blossoms tea ceremony. What a refined taste. Masamune likes tea ceremonies.
Masuda :
Yes, he was a great master of tea ceremony. Let me show you another letter that refered to salted salmon. This is also signed with an egg-shaped signature, and it starts with an apology for his late reply because of a tea ceremony for Honko Kokushi the previous day. Honko Kokushi is a monk called Konchi-in Suden of Nanzen-ji and also referred to as a "Mastermind in Black Robes". He played a significant role in politics during Hidetada's time. Following an apology the letter continues to ask for his visit on the day after next as Masamune would love to host a tea ceremony for him by all means. Adding that he will give him five pieces of salted salmon from Sendai is homeland, and that two of them have had their salt removed thus can be eaten as they are, though the remaining three he should remove the salt by changing water for about three days before eating, as a postscript. Like that, he had carefully noted a recipe.
Kashima :
That is interesting.
Masuda :
I assume the recipient, Ikeda Sannosuke from Bizen who was related to Mitsumasa by marriage, didn't know how to cook salmon well. Since Honko Kokushi appeared in this letter it was written when Masamune was in Edo. Again it is about a tea ceremony.
Kashima :
I see. I can grasp how great in number Masamune's letters referred to tea. And especially the penmanship of these letters with the round egg shaped signature are smooth and shows well his personal taste.
Masuda :
Exactly. They were written very light-heartedly. Now, here's another one. This is a special one in my collection. Would you like to see it?
Kashima :
Yes, of course. I would love to do. Oh, but just before that there are two pieces that I would like to show you. Could you please take a look at them first?
Masuda :
Yes, let’s look at them.
Kashima :
The first scroll is a property of our client and it comes with a commentary letter from you. I was asked by him to show you. It is a piece by Koetsu.
Masuda :
Oh my, this was a letter from me of 26 or 27 years old. It reminds me of the time when I was a teacher in a high school, of which memories are nostalgic and somehow embarrassing to remember. Can you see the postmark of the year of 1977? My first book was published from Kawade Shobo in 1980 and in order to use a photo of a letter as a reference material I asked the owner for his permission. I also wrote my comments on the letter. It is so embarrassing to have drawn images! Although it seemed that I studied a lot about a teakettle of Shajiku, my writing is cheeky. I was young and thoughtless when I did it. The piece itself is a very nice letter by Koetsu.
 
It is an accessible piece of Koetsu. Here's the other one which we will be including in our exhibition BISAI.
Masuda :
A letter by Emperor Gomizunoo. It is a fine piece. Well, Mr Koresawa had written authentication on the box in 1958. The letter says, "Thank you for your letter last night. It is joyous that you are feeling well." Then, it refers to Umenomiya who was the eldest daughter of Gomizunoo. "Ume is also doing well. I have been organizing art works and books, however, there are some that are unknown to me, so if you find anything precious to you in the list, please let me know. I will keep them. If you do not need, I will discard. Please advise your selection."
Kashima :
To whom was it addressed?
Masuda :
The addressee is Himoji-sama, which means a woman who lives in the East Palace, so she is an elder sister of Gomizunoo as a letter written in kana is to a woman.
Kashima :
I see, thank you very much. Now, would you please show us the special piece you mentioned earlier?
Masuda :
Yes, of course. Just wait for a moment.

*This article was published in the catalogue of BISAI 9 in autumn 2011.

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Kashima Morio

  • Kasima Arts Co., Ltd.
  • Kashima Morio
  • Founded Kasima Arts Co., Ltd for an art dealing company in 1988. Also established a secondhand book store. As a mail-order business, he has published a catalogue “Ochiho”.

Masuda Takashi

  • Masuda Takashi
  • Japanese paleographer. Former President of Aichi Bunkyo University, former lecturer in University of Tokyo. Graduated from Tokyo University of Education (Currently: University of Tsukuba), then taught at Chiba Prefectural Funabashi Senior High School. Specialised in history of Japanese culture, calligraphy and manuscript. He also appears on a TV programme of antique show.

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