Spring Special Exhibition
Feasting has been the central feature of hospitality in Japan since antiquity, and the very word for festive food—gochiso—evokes an image of the excitement of gathering ingredients and making preparations to please the invited guests. For those in power, feasting is a way of demonstrating strength, so food or banquets in political contexts may become obsessed with splendor and extravagance. In the age of warlord rivalries that extended from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries in Japan, banquet dining evolved to a point of unfortunate excess, involving large feasts prepared more for appearances than as food that people desired to eat.
In the late sixteenth century, the pushback against such developments in banquet cuisine came during the cultural ferment of the Momoyama period (1568–1603), which coincided with the emergence of the culture of tea gatherings, chanoyu. A whole new concept of “feast” was born with the development among tea practitioners of what later came to be known as kaiseki cuisine.
The key concept of kaiseki is that it should be simple food eaten in preparation for enjoying the tea prepared by the host. Its name, which is said to derive from the warmed stones that Zen priests would put in the belly folds of their clothing to stave of hunger and cold during meditation, is written with the characters for “bosom” and “stone.” The new cuisine evolved to emphasize the consideration and care of the host for the guests and serving of dishes prepared for the sake of taste and substance rather than show.
The defining characteristics of kaiseki can be boiled down to a few: Each dish is served separately and as soon as it is ready, so that the guest can enjoy it to the utmost. The host personally prepares and serves the guests. The menu is contrived to feature, not novel or unusual items obtained at great lengths, but seasonal ingredients available close at hand and known to be enjoyed by the guests. The quantity is sufficient to satisfy the guest’s appetite without waste. And finally, the serving vessels chosen to be aesthetically pleasing to see and hold in the hands. The format of the kaiseki meal was begun by Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591) and developed during the eighteenth century to what we know today.
Miho Museum founder Koyama Mihoko practiced tea as a young woman and came to embrace chanoyu for the discipline it provides in the manners and basic wisdom that represent the best of Japanese culture. The Miho Museum collection itself began with utensils for tea. This exhibition presents outstanding examples of kaiseki-related vessels selected from the Miho Museum collection.