In reply to a telegram the Iemoto dips his brush in ink and writes this beautiful, well-spaced, but humble letter about manners, money, and modernity.
Zui'o Sosa (1837-1910), Letter to Takeyama Kanshichi (1854-1907), Ink on paper, 54 x 103 cm (21 ¼ x 40¾ in.) Mounting 50.5 x 165 cm (19¾ x 65 in.)
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was a turning point. And tea culture went through a period of decline. One of the reasons for this was the fact the supportive classes, the feudal lords (daimyo) and the upper-class samurai, no longer existed. Another reason was that a wave of modernization rolled over the country undermining cultural traditions, one of them being the Way of Tea. Zui’o Sosa, the 11th generation head of Omotesenke, and the other heads of the Sen houses struggled to keep the tradition alive.
And while the Meiji Restauration meant struggle to some it meant success to others. One of them
was Takeyama Kanshichi (1854-1907), the addressee of this letter. He was from unpretentious descent, the offspring of a family of Kimono wholesalers, and he was aware of the opportunities the new era had to offer. By the end of the century, he was one of the wealthiest citizens of Nagoya. Electricity, railways, fertilizers, and textiles made him rich. For the Sen houses, particularly for the Omotesenke, it was important if not vital, to build, maintain, and hone relationships with the new wealthy. This well spaced letter is written in a distinct, mature, and humble style. It is a reply to Kanshichi’s telegram.
It started to be cold. Nevertheless, I would love to invite you again to my humble place. I would organize little festivity for you. And when you come, I'll be there to welcome you. Last time when you came to Kyoto, I received your kind telegram which I have appreciated. I was so relieved that there is nothing wrong with your health. I heard that you had a hard time finding [what I have been looking for]. I am so grateful for your kindness. When you come back to Kyoto, I must see you right away to thank you [in person]. Because of the holidays I do not bother you any longer. Please accept this apology. December 30th, Sen Sosa. To Mr Takeyama Kanshichi.