Unassuming in its grandness from the outside: Sumiya.
The imagination cannot possibly do justice to the reality of what these walls must have seen. And these walls! No where is room after room so intricately designed to meet a mood, all under the same roof. (And you know, since you are reading this blog, that these walls are made of the gifts of the earth. Conjuring the crafters in the mind invokes salivation. Abalone inlay on dark grey clay… bright blues and reds all but gone from the region now, but putty in the masters’ hands then.) Wait, abalone inlay? Why, yes, 270 year-old abalone inlay in a fine clay wall, my dear. Your great grandmother wasn’t even born yet.
At the time 270 years ago, rooms like this were apparently not so very uncommon. Today, this is the only one you can find. Aogai-no-ma. A dark grey-blue clay finish (kujo-tsuchi, also no longer findable) blackened by soot features intricate designs of abalone inlay. The room itself is considered a China-inspired party room. The blackness of the walls and the ceiling are from the multitude of candles that would be lit each night, throughout the centuries. Sparkly! and incidentally, it was the soot from all these candles that has preserved the cat-tail stalks that created this rarely seen ceiling.
Aogai-no-ma is on the second floor of Sumiya — a no-camera zone. Just as well, photos cannot do justice to the sensations that are these rooms. But just look at that (thank you INAX Japan Walls book).
270 years ago. This happened. Do you see? The abalone border? The creator was so proud of his work that he even signed one of the walls in abalone. And it is worth bragging in my Master Asahara’s stead. He is the only one who, 30 years ago when two sections at the entry were in clear need of repair, stepped up with a sample and said “I can do it.” And do it did he! Once you are told those two sections are not original, the carefully discerning eye finally sees a slight difference in the hue of the clay. But the shell, bang on.
Bless the Bucket
This roof — removed from its original location because the Shogun wanted debauchery moved to another quarter of Kyoto back in 1641 — has seen two additions in its near-400 year lifespan. To think, it may have been crushed to dust a few decades ago were it not for a large bath-bucket, enjoyed by Saigo Takamori, the last Samurai. Thanks to the bath-bucket’s history, the whole property was spared from being demolished to accommodate the incoming JR train line.
The second floor bans tourist cameras, quite possibly because it is well nigh holy in its creation. Thank goodness for publications with clout to capture the divine. I for one am not too proud to show you photos of online photographs, some of which themselves are photographs of books. This is the power that Sumiya exerts over us.
Does this not make you want to pick up a fan and get down? The musician would have been elevated on the stage behind the “sliding curtains,” safely carrying on the beat among all the fancy feet.
This room makes me want to stop the world and melt…
Yes, that’s a wicked twisted root or something they plastered flawlessly to. Oh yeah, and a golden wall.
The first floor also contains magnificence at every view:
It starts with the kitchen. Earthen cook stove, polished finish, plenty of stove tops. No chimney, eek! High ceilings, phew. Do look up and left — this is not a wonky photo, those are wonky walls. Apparently it is common in “machiya” (Kyoto’s preferred model of home) for the walls above the kitchen to be plastered less fervently than the rest of the house, to cut costs. Hence, the wonk. I will have to keep my eyes open, this is the first I’m noticing it.
Looking down the hall, you can see that the long yellow section reflects what the light is bringing in at the other end. The whole length is polished. This is “ohtsu-migaki,” a polished lime-clay, about 20-30 percent lime, with hemp fibers. The finish layer is the thickness of a fingernail.
You just have to be here.
That is one tree, supported and trained over a loooooong time. The tea house behind it is not a part of the tour, but viewed from a far, so breathtaking.
This “engawa” (wrap-around corridor) is so rough, smooth, and lovely.
What a whimsical tiled garden wall. And see that trunk with its staff? That is the origin of all that sprawling green pinery a couple photos back.
This curved exterior wall supports the veranda that extends out from the Aogai-no-ma upstairs. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a design. I can’t remember for sure if it is polished, but it likely is.
And back to the kitchen, to show you this ingenious way to make one candle work really efficiently. It’s even on a pully, to adjust to just the right height.
The history here quickens the heart of the fanciful. The atmosphere is exquisite. Glorious painter and poet Yosa Buson was a patron, as was rebel extraordinaire Sakamoto Ryoma. The greatest acclaimed performers of their time, the tayu (mighty skilled geisha), entertained un-armed samurai from every clan and their mothers, such as the international star, genius Yachiyo Tayu. A peace zone, swords were left at the door, please. (Ahem Francheska, I just had to.) Strictly for the pleasure of the senses, burning enough candles to light up the night, food and sake flowed from the grand kitchen at this ageya, the place to lift you up.
You must visit. Make reservations to tour the second floor, or you’ll be sorry. And, pray, take me with you to translate.