Tsuen teashop

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The storefront of the Tsûen teashop as it appears today
  • Established: c. 1160
  • Japanese: 通園茶屋 (tsuuen chaya)

The Tsûen Teashop is a long-standing teashop in Uji, near Kyoto. Its location allowed it to serve many travelers journeying to or from the capital, or along the Yamato Road. There remain records that Ashikaga Yoshimasa, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and various other extremely prominent figures enjoyed tea at this shop.

The ship is particularly famous for its appearance in Yoshikawa Eiji's novel Musashi, but actually it has been operating since around 1160. The shop's founder, Furukawa Unai, was a vassal of Minamoto no Yorimasa, and was said to have excelled at martial arts. In his last years, he retired and was granted by Yorimasa the character "masa" for his name; he took on the name Taikei-an Tsûen Masahisa, and established this teashop on the eastern end of the Uji Bridge. He fought alongside Yorimasa in the 1180 battle of Uji, and died in that battle. A kyôgen play exists telling this story, and from time to time it is performed.

His descendants, down through the generations, took on the name Tsûen, and operated this teashop, providing tea to travelers. The seventh generation head of the family had strong close relations with the Zen priest Ikkyû, and became himself a Zen practitioner and hermit; the two (Tsûen and Ikkyû) are said to have been inseparable. When Tsûen died in 1455, Ikkyû came right away, and gifted to the family a piece of calligraphy reading "One cup of tea, one coin, one's time is a bubble"; in other words, one's life lasts only a short while before bursting and disappearing, like a bubble in the foam of a river, a famous and popular metaphor in Japanese culture.

The eighth generation head of the Tsûen family served Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as chief tea master.

The tenth and eleventh Tsûen family heads continued to operate the teahouse and serve as masters of the crossing at Uji Bridge. They earned the trust of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and provided water from the Uji River to be used for the lord's tea. This water, drawn from a spot on/near Uji Bridge called San-no-ma, was even used for the famous Fushimi Tea Gathering, where Hideyoshi invited daimyô and tea masters from throughout the realm. He ordered Sen no Rikyû to make a well-bucket, and then, prior to dawn, Tsûen brought water and Hideyoshi partook of the tea. The Tsûen still today preserve those buckets.

The building which stands today was built in 1672, and has been officially recognized by Kyoto prefecture as a Cultural Property, and surviving example of machiya architecture. Looking at it from the front, the building has deep eaves and a wide entrance, creating a strange feeling. But this is because, at the time, in the Edo period, people believed this allowed for easier entry and exit; the wide pillars are also typical of an old style belonging to the early Edo period. Tea jars spanning several hundred years are lined up outside the shop, along with a wooden statue of the first Tsûen, gifted by Ikkyû.


  • Plaques on-site.

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