Brief overview about Kiseru – Japanese smoking pipes

Here is a summary about Kiseru, Japanese traditional smoking pipes.

1. Arrival of “smoke” to Japan and beginning of Kiseru

Smoking is a custom originally from American continents – Columbus “found” this mysterious leaf utilized by native tribes for ritual ceremony and brought back to Europe in the end of 15c ~ beg of 16c. According to J.Goodman, it is assumed that tobacco got to be popular in Europe after 1570. On the other hand, it is said it arrived at Japan in the end of 16c(*1), it means that Tabaco consumption custom was spread from Europe to Japan in only 30 years or less.So, who brought tabacco to Japan first? It is not clear: European missionary? South-Eastern Asia? Korea/China? Anyway, it seems this is not far from the reality: “Origin is Americas >> came to Europe in beg of 16c >> got to be popular during 16c >> came to Asia/Japan in the end of 16c”.

Kiseru came to Japan together with tabaco, since it is smoking device. There are several theories about the origin of the word “kiseru”. One says it is from “khsier”(=pipe) of Cambodian language, or other mentions the relation with “que sorber” of Portuguese / Spanish. (*2)

*1 Pedro de Burguillos, a Franciscan, visited Japan in 1601 to establish good relationship with the new leader Ieyasu Tokugawa and brought tobacco as medicine. His visit report says tobacco already existed in Japan at that time. (the report is in Royal Museum in Spain.)

*2 I personally think it is not the case, since “sorber” means “sip liquid” in current Spanish.

2.Kiseru, as a product

2-1 Structure

Here is the picture of the most popular one “Rau-Kiseru”.
structure of kiseru japanese smoking pipe

Rau-Kiseru in the beginning is called “Koubone-gata”, which has bigger “fire plate”, thin and curved “goose-neck”, slim and longer Rau. It is changed to smaller fire-plate and shorter Rau thanks to advanced tobacco processing which realized “Hoso-kizami”, extreme-thin-cut tobacco as hair.Another Kiseru type is “Nobe-Kiseru”, which is made only of metal (silver, copper, tin or other material). During Edo period, Kiseru got to be not only a smoking device, but also a sort of accessory to express his/her social status and then Nobe-Kiseru was good because it has more surface to put artistic arrangements on it.

2-2 Types of Kiseru

As mentioned, it is considered that the smoking custom got popular among Japanese people from end 16c ~ beg of 17c. This period was exactly in the evolution from Warring State to Edo “long peace” Period. The society was not stable and therefore Kabuki-mono came up, who are kind of gangster group and ended up as the origin of Kabuki art. Kabuki-mono, as extraordinary/avant-guard lifestyle lover, were attracted to tobacco smoking culture, and also found that Kiseru is good item for self-expression. There are 2 representative model: one is ca.1m long “Hanami-Kiseru (Date-Kiseru)”, and another is all-steel-made “Kenka-kiseru”(fighting-kiseru), which was used as weapon since Kabuki-mono were not allowed to carry sword with.

Other typical Kiserus are: Tazuna-gata kiseru designed from Shime nawa, Flat stype “Natamame Kiseru”. One of the most strange one is “Meoto-Kiseru”, which the stem can be separated so that 2 people can smoke from 1 pipe at the same time (see above beautiful drawing)
Copper Tazuna-style Kiseru. This is typical shape in the end of Edo period. It is also used by Ishikawa Goemon – legendary thief – in Kabuki.

And…yes, here are commercial ads :)))

silver kiseru, japanese smoking pipe

Pure silver Hammer finish Kiseru. The chamber is made from Mokumegane.

brass lau kiseru, japanese smoking pipe

Basic “Lau” style Kiseru (brass)

Copper peeling finish Tazuna-style Kiseru.

This post is also available in: Japanese

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