The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 2: Into Literature, Enter Infamy

Chapter Two
Into Literature, Enter Infamy

January 7th, 1943. In just seven days, the New Year had already aged a darken gray upon the islands of the Japanese Empire. War was in the winter air, war was in the snow that fell. This snow, bleak and sombre, monotonous and monotone, fell softly but surely, piling layers upon layers of sadness immersed in an empty hope for a victory that was far too elusive to even fathom.

It was on this day, several months before the Matsudome shards were donated by Kato Tokuro to the Nezu Museum in March of 1943, that a small and erroneous article appeared in the pages of the Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) edition of the Chubu Nippon Shimbun (Central Japan Newspaper) which marked the first appearance of the Einin Tsubo within the watchful eyes of history. In the article it was written:

“Earthenware from the Muromachi Period
Found During Road Repair in Shidami Village

A mysterious vase was unearthed during construction and repair work on a road in Shirotori District, Shidami Village, Higashi-Kasugai County at around 10 o’clock on the morning of the 6th. Approximately 18.8cm in diameter and 27.9cm tall, it is fired with ash glaze in a style commonly associated with “Toshiro-yaki,” or ceramic jars used to store sake for Shinto rituals. On its body is vividly engraved the following three lines.

Treasure Offered in Holy Ritual to the Hakuzan Shrine
By Mizuno Yonen Masaharu, of Mikuriya in Seto, Yamadanokori County, Bishuu Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture)
Second Year of Einin (1294), Lucky Day in November

According to the appraisal of Mr Hasegawa Yoshitaka, a regional historian and mayor of Shidami Village, the ceramic work was made approximately 450~60 years ago in the Muromachi Period, and Mr Hasegawa claims it is an extremely important artefact for archaeological research.

Mitsuoka Tadanari.jpg
(Mitsuoka Tadanari, Curator at the Nezu)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Mt. Togoku is famous for being the origin of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) civilization, and many kofun-style ancient tombs have been found in this region along with many artefacts. In Shirotori can there also be found old kofun-style tombs, yet where this particular artefact was discovered is slightly separated from such a location. However, other shards have been unearthed from this site during repairs of the local road, and as this particular vessel is especially grand, it can be said that a truly fine material for research has been excavated.

A shrine has been located in this area for centuries, and this vessel is most probably a jar to hold sake to offer to the gods. It is unclear whether the jar was fired by a member of the Mizuno clan, whose name is indicted on its façade, or if a member of the Mizuno family had commissioned its creation to a local potter and then subsequently offered to the shrine.”

The snows of war would ultimately blot out the many blatant errors made therein. For example, engraved on the tsubo are the words “2nd year of Einin,” or 1294. An elementary school child, with a bit of research, could easily deduce that the work therefore could not have been made in the Muromachi Period; rather, it should have derived from a far older period, or more specifically, the Kamakura Period. Yet such snows would also erase the immense nature of the find -- an elegantly ash-glazed vase in pristine condition which explicitly states that it was made in the Kamakura Period in a style unlike any other work found in that specific era. The general public did not seem to notice the gravity of the discovery as they were so fully immersed and interested only in the news of war.

Although Hasegawa Yoshihiko, the mayor and local historian of Shidami, had been questionably quoted as attesting to the jar as a Muromachi piece, it was without question that he understood the magnitude of the Einin Tsubo. He would tell his son Torao, a future foreign correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, “This tsubo is, without a doubt, an extremely important work in the history of ceramics.”

Not only did Hasegawa believe the jar to be important, it was his.

Shortly after the article was published and before the Matsudome shards were installed within the walls of the Nezu Museum, Kato Tokuro invited two curators associated with the Nezu, the young curator Mitsuoka Tadanari and Seto archaeologist (and future principal of the Seto Ceramics Institute) Akatsuka Mikiya to Hasegawa’s home in Shidami. For the first time ever, the infamous Einin Tsubo would be witnessed by a 3rd party. In fact, Tokuro had eloquently explained to the two researchers that Hasegawa himself had unearthed an amazing ceramic artefact from a construction site, directly contradicting the newspaper article’s claim that a 3rd party had excavated the work and that Hasegawa had merely appraised it. Already, one could find that the tale of the Einin was beginning to slowly fall apart.

Mitsuoka was certainly impressed with the tsubo. “This is a rare jar indeed!” he exclaimed. Yet the young Mitsuoka would garner the same impression when he would come into contact with the Matsudome shards several months later. Akatsuka, however, was dubious, tilting his head in thought as he examined the work. At this time, Akatsuka would sketch the first image of the Einin for archaeological research, as well as sketching the images of various shards that would mysteriously be reconstructed to form another yet lesser-known relic of infamy, the Yokoku Renben-mon Flower Vase.

Several months later in early Spring, Hasegawa further invited Mori Toku-ichiro, the village archaeologist, to his home, along with 50 local teachers and historians, to confront the object of his affection. Huddled together in a small room within his rather large traditionally Japanese-style home, Mori recalls their conversation in a letter he had written, which remains today.

Hasegawa asked Mori, “Mori-san, what do you think of this tsubo?”
Mori: “This is an absolutely incredible thing; how did you find it?”
Hasegawa: “Oh, I’d dug it up at the place where they were doing road construction. There were actually two tsubo, but this one was more interesting, so I took this one.”
Mori: “This is truly magnificent, but I wonder why its owner wasn’t able to safely deliver the jar to the Hakuzan Shrine…. Of course it wasn’t easy to reach the shrine in those days. Especially considering that engraved in the jar is the month of November, the weather would prevent a safe journey from this time to December and New Year’s. Or does the month of November mean that the proprietor had passed away in the wintertime? In any event, they must have buried the set of vases together in prayer. But this is such a magnificent discovery. Are you not going to announce this find?”

Hasegawa: “I haven’t yet, but do you think you will be able to? You are far better at announcing these things than I.”
Mori: “I understand. Then I’ll bring this up with the Koko-gaku Zasshi (Journal of Archaeology), but I don’t know a thing about ceramics or the Mizuno family. And there’re too many people here today, and I wouldn’t even have the time to write down its proper dimensions. Can you do the research and send it to me?”
Hasegawa: “Of course.”

A week later, Mori received a write-up on the Einin Tsubo from Hasegawa. Yet in the letter, Hasegawa had chosen to exclude his name as the owner of the vase. Asked why, Hasegawa curiously explained to Mori that, “I haven’t paid the full amount for it yet, so it’s hard for me to say that it’s already mine. I wouldn’t want to publicise it and see its price inflate, so can you do me a favour and exclude my name from the article?” Mori didn’t think much of it, and did as he was told.

Interestingly enough, Hasegawa had mentioned the existence of two tsubos. As if predicting the future, the Einin Tsubo would indeed become a pair.

April, 1943. The cherry blossoms in the Minami-Aoyama district were in full bloom, and painted the gardens of the Nezu Museum in champagne pink. Although Hasegawa had just written a letter to Mori alluding to his lack of possession rights to the Einin Tsubo because of his inability to pay for it in full, astonishingly, Kato Tokuro would approach Mitsuoka Tadanari with the following proposition. With a wide grin as bright as the sun, Tokuro said to Mitsuoka, “Hasegawa Yoshitaka wishes to donate the Einin Tsubo to your museum.”

Mitsuya Miyamatsu.jpg
(Mitsuya Miyamatsu, Director of the Nezu)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Mitsuoka had already been basked in the presence of the jar during his visit to Hasegawa’s home in early January, and without question, the young curator thought it was too good of an offer to pass up. Encouraged by the warmth of Spring and the scents of sakura, Mitsuoka asked Hasegawa to send the tsubo to the Nezu. And on a glorious Spring day, the Tsubo was delivered to the museum by Hasegawa, who took his leave soon thereafter.

Koyama Fujio, our unknowing protagonist, wrote excitingly in his memoirs about the jar that would skew the balance of his life forever. “I first saw the Einin Tsubo together with Okuda Seiichi, the head of the Oriental Ceramics Research Institute (and Koyama’s “sensei,” in a sense), Sato Shinzo, owner of the Mingei shop Minato-ya in Ginza (and a future key figure in the Japan Ceramics Society), and the young curator Mitsuoka.” Sato, it should be said here, would eventually play a pivotal role in brokering the sale of both Einin Tsubos (yes, there were two) to various collectors. Yet at this time, the man was innocently passionate. Wrote Koyama, “In my long career of researching old kilns, I’ve never been so excited in my life.”

Mitsuoka understood that with this donation the issue of gratuity would again arise, much like how the Nezu had thanked Tokuro with 2000 yen (or 1 million yen today). Mitsuoka thus consulted various dealers for an appraisal of the Einn Tsubo, and reported his findings to Mitsuya Miyamatsu, the director of the Nezu. Mitsuya replied, “Very well, in any event we must repay Hasegawa for his graciousness.”

Mitsuoka soon contacted Mayor Hasegawa, telling him that, “We would like to repay your kindness. Please come to the museum at your earliest convenience.” Hasegawa travelled from Aichi to the museum immediately after receiving word from Mitsuoka, and when introduced to Director Mitsuya, exclaimed, “The Matsudome shards were Tokuro’s, but the Einin Tsubo is unequivocally mine. I would like to sell the Tsubo to you for 35,000 yen (or approx. 12 million yen in today’s currency). An air of silence tinged with disbelief rang through the meeting room of the Nezu. All were completely flabbergasted. Mitsuoka had only prepared 10,000 yen as gratuity, thinking this was more than a fair price for the Tsubo.

Director Mitsuya, a former chief of the Police Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, flushed sanguine as he banged the table in front of him with the palm of his hand. “This is absurd!” he howled as he ran out the door. Mitsuoka bowed once to Hasegawa in apology, and quickly ran after his superior. “I was briefed by you that this was to be a donation! What the hell is he thinking, asking us to pay him for the work?” barked Mitsuya. “People from Owari (Aichi Prefecture) can’t be trusted. These talks are finished.” And that was that.

Akatsuka Mikiya.jpg
(Akatsuka Mikiya, Seto Researcher)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Koyama was nonetheless disappointed in his Director’s anger. In his memoir, Koyama wrote reluctantly, “A deal could not be reached regarding price.” And the same went for Mitsuoka, who thought at the time that “the price was a small sum in light of our endowment, oh what a waste!”

Deflated, Hasegawa carefully packaged the tsubo in a box and a wrapping cloth, and left the museum for his son Torao’s house in O-kayama, Meguro Ward, where he placed the vase for safe keeping.

But soon thereafter, the existence of the Einin Tsubo would garner national acclaim amongst researchers when the July 1943 issue of the Koko-gaku Zasshi (Journal of Archaeology), a monthly journal published by the Japan Archaeological Society, ran an article on the Einin Tsubo within its “News” column. Complete with a photo image of the magnificent tsubo, in the article, titled “Second Year of Einin-Engraved Seto Flask,” was written:

“Unearthed February, 18th Year of Showa (1943), in Shirotori, Kami-Shidami, Shidami Village, Higashi-Kasugai County, Aichi Prefecture
Height: 27.9cm Diameter of Mouth: 5.2cm Diameter of Body: 18.5cm
In the shape of a flask with a widening base, a transparent amber glaze covers the entirety of its body, with the following words engraved within its left-hand side.

Offered to the Gods at Hyakuzan Shrine
Dedicated by
Mizuno Shiro Masaharu, of Mikuriya in Seto, Yamadanokori County, Bishuu Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture)
Second Year of Einin (1294), A Day in November

Shidami Village is adjacent to Seto, and was under the control of the Mizuno family along with medieval Seto, Mizuno, Shinano and Asahi Villages. Records regarding the Mizuno clan can be found in the Jisho and Juei Periods, and they also appear in the (historical text) Azumikagami. In regards to Seto flasks that have explicit engravings of historical dates, a pair with the engraving “First Year of Showa (1312)” belonging to the Hakuzan Shrine in Nagataki, Hokuno Village, Gujo County, Gifu Prefecture has been designated National Treasures; however this particular flask with a key historical engraving is now considered to be the oldest in existence.”

It is hardly difficult to point out the many discrepancies between the facts stated in the Koko-gaku Zasshi article and the earlier Chubu Nippon Shimbun article. The latter article states that the shrine in question was a so-called Hyakuzan Shrine, whereas the earlier article had named the Hakuzan Shrine. In fact, there is no Hyakuzan shrine in Gifu or Aichi. The donator is named “Mizuno Shiro Masaharu” in the latter article, which correctly depicts the engravings, whereas the earlier article misreads the words as “Mizuno Shiro (Four Years) Masaharu.” And the latter article correctly alludes to the engravings as being made in “A Day in November,” rather than “Lucky Day in November.” Both articles, thus, are helplessly erred.

More bizarre is the fact that until recently, it was thought that a man named Ono Katsutoshi had written the Koko-gaku Zasshi article, as his name lies next to the article itself. In fact, Ono the archaeologist was in Beijing for 9 years, including the year 1943, and could not have returned to Japan to research and write about this utterly fascinating tsubo. Rather, the true author was none other than Mori Toku-ichiro, who was commissioned by Hasegawa to write about a subject he had no clue about. And strangely enough, his name was excluded from the article, which was a first for the prestigious journal.

Dejected that his offer to sell the Einin Tsubo was equivocally eschewed, Hasegawa travelled slowly and with heavy heart to his son Torao’s home. Leaving the tsubo in his son’s hands, Hasegawa told his son to “protect this tsubo with your life!” Torao did not question his father’s orders, and his wife Shuko heeded his request close to her heart. It would be Shuko who would rescue the Einin Tsubo from the inferno that was the great Tokyo fire bombings and return the vase to Shidami during her husband’s absence in the war. Yet Torao, who would become a leading member of the then-prominent Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, would later speak these words that would shed light on some of the shadows surrounding the Einin Tsubo.

“My father genuinely believed the Einin Tsubo was real, and treated it as if it was a real treasure. It was Tokuro who told my father that it actually came from the repository of a shrine. But he had asked my father to say that my father had dug it up, and this is why the story of the road construction site was made.”

How did Hasegawa really obtain the Einin Tsubo? And what was Tokuro’s relationship with the mayor of Shidami? Like how darkness leads to further darkness, the trail of questions left behind by the Einin Tsubo only splinter further into a blurred kaleidoscope of lies.

(Continued in Chapter 3: A Sunny Afternoon in Seto)
Due in November
(Continued in Chapter 4: The Selling of the Einin)
Due in December
(Continued in Chapter 5: The Birth of an Important Cultural Property)
Due in January

Written by Wahei Aoyama, based on the book "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin
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