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Mon, Jan 29, 2024

Samurai tea master Oda Urakusai featured at Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo

Jo-an (currently located in Inuyama, Aichi Pref.), which is said to be one of the three finest teahouses in Japan, was originally built in a temple precinct in Kyoto in the early 17th century by Oda Urakusai (1547-1622), a samurai warlord who lived through turbulent times and an accomplished practitioner of tea whose style led to the founding of a buke sado (samurai tea ceremony) named after him. To retroactively commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, The Suntory Museum of Art (Roppongi, Tokyo) is holding a special exhibition to highlight the relatively unknown ‘samurai tea master’ and his deeds.

A seated statue of Oda Urakusai (Edo Period, 17th century) borrowed from the Shoden Eigen-in temple in Kyoto (Photo by Kazuki Matsuura)
Dagger (tanto)
Meibutsu: Terasawa Sadamune
National Treasure
Late Kamakura-Nambokucho Period, 14th century
Agency for Cultural Affairs
(On display: Feb. 28-March 24)

Art of Oda Urakusai, Samurai Tea Master

Jan 31 (Wed) – Mar 24 (Sun), 2024

Suntory Museum of Art
(Roppongi, Tokyo)

*See outline below for details2

“Art of Oda Urakusai, Samurai Tea Master,” the exhibition scheduled to open on Jan. 31, 2024, will showcase cultural assets and historical material associated with Urakusai borrowed from Shoden Eigen-in (formerly Shoden-in) — a subtemple of the Zen Buddhist Kennin-ji temple (Kyoto) where Jo-an was built — and other institutions in Japan. A statue and a portrait painting from Shoden Eigen-in (see below), both of which give us a good idea what he looked like, are among the items to go on display.

Portrait of Oda Urakusai
Painting: Kano Sanraku, Inscription: Kokan Jikei
Hanging scroll
Shoden Eigen-in Temple
(On display: Feb. 28-March 24)

From the Sengoku (Warring states) period to the Edo period, Urakusai, or as samurai, Nagamasu, served under three tenkabito (de facto rulers) of medieval Japan — namely, his elder brother Oda Nobunaga, who came close to unifying Japan; Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who succeeded Nobunaga; and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who established the Edo shogunate — until he finally retired and went into seclusion in Kyoto.

From the press review of the exhibition at the Suntory Museum of Art on Jan. 30. (Photo by Kazuki Matsuura)

A part of the exhibition will focus on Urakusai as samurai. The tanto sword (dagger) known as “Terasawa Sadamune” (top photo) — a designated national treasure of Japan to be exhibited in Section 1 — once belonged to Hideyoshi and was later bestowed to Urakusai. The dagger is registered in the “Kyoho Meibutsu-cho” — a list of swords of the highest quality compiled during the Kyoho era of the Edo period — and thereby referred to as a meibutsu (literally, ‘famous thing’).

Letter from Matsudaira Mutsunokami to Oda Urakusai
Hanging scroll
Edo Period, 17th century
Shoden Eigen-in Temple
(On display: Jan. 31-Feb. 26)

Nagamasu was known as a tea connoisseur well before he retired. He developed or kept close ties with high priests and fellow samurai tea masters — including Furuta Oribe, Date Masamune and Hosokawa Sansai — even after having gone into seclusion. His associations are well documented in the correspondences kept at Shoden Eigen-in, some of which will go on display in the exhibition.

The “Uraku Ido” tea bowl (Joseon dynasty, 16th century) from the Tokyo National Museum is said to have been owned by Oda Urakusai himself. (Photo by Kazuki Matsuura)
Tea caddy bunrin type, named “Tamagaki”
Southern Song dynasty (China), 12-13th century
Toyama Memorial Museum
(On display throughout the exhibition)
The two Black Raku tea bowls (Edo Period, 19th century) attributed to Nin’ami Dohachi in the foreground are inscribed “Shoden-in.” (Photo by Kazuki Matsuura)

Most of the tea utensils actually used by Urakusai have been lost. According to the museum, the tea bowls, caddies and other tools that remain at Shoden Eigen-in and other places, however, is telling of what the master may have used or favored, which in turn will help us imagine the kind of sukisha (tea enthusiast) he was.

The “Landscape paintings on partitions from the former shoin of Shoden-in Temple” by Azuchi–Momoyama-period artist Hasegawa Tohaku, “Lotuses and herons” by Kano school master Kano Sanraku and several other Shoden-in treasures that have no direct links with the samurai tea master will also be a part of the exhibition.

Lotuses and herons (detail)
Kano Sanraku
Sixteen panels
Edo Period, 17th century
Shoden Eigen-in Temple
(On display throughout the exhibition)
Landscape paintings on partitions from the former shoin of Shoden-in Temple (details)
Hasegawa Tohaku
Six panels
Momoyama Period, 16-17th century
Nagoya Railroad Co., Ltd.
(On display: Feb. 28-March 24)

The exhibition runs through March 24.

Outline of the event


Wed, Jan 31, 2024〜Sun, Mar 24, 2024


Suntory Museum of Art
Tokyo Midtown Galleria 3F
9-7-4 Akasaka
Minato Ward, Tokyo


Adults: 1,600 yen
University/High school students 1,000 yen

*Admission free for junior high school students and younger
*Admission free for visitors with disabilites and one caregiver

Closing day

Tuesdays except Mar 19


Tel. 03-3479-8600



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