Table Speech

Newspapers Past and Present

July 29, 2015

Mr. Kotaro Akiyama
Adviser, Asahi Shimbun

 While some say that “newspapers” originated from the ancient Roman Era when the minutes of the Senate was made public by the order of Caesar, it is widely believed that the “handwritten newspapers” on trade activities sold by a wealthy merchant from the Fugger family back in the 15th century in Augsburg, Germany, was the first one.

 In Japan, we had the kawaraban in the Edo Era sold by street vendors. It reported newsworthy events in writings and illustrations, printed by means of clay tiles or wooden engravings. “Batavia Shinbun (newspaper)” was published on a regular basis by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1862. It was a translation of selected articles of the “Javasche Courant” originally published by the Dutch Governor-General’s Office in Java. The shogunate used newspapers to make those in authority informed on foreign affairs when the national opinions were divided between expulsion of foreigners and opening the country to the world.

 The Meiji Era saw different kinds of newspapers published across Japan, reporting domestic and foreign news or the commodity market. The first daily newspaper “Yokohama Mainichi Shinbun” was published in 1870, followed by Yomiuri Shinbun which started in 1874 and Asahi Shinbun in 1879.

 Newspapers served to convey the tide of the times, while it propagated the slogans of the Meiji government, “civilization and enlightenment” and “rich country, strong army.” The number of readers kept increasing as newspapers reported the military situations of major wars, including the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War.

 After World War II, the newspaper industry gained “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” and flourished. Riding the wave of high economic growth, the daily circulation marked 10 million copies for Yomiuri and 8 million copies for Asahi. The industry has also been protected by various “barriers,” including the “resale price maintenance system” that expanded solid distribution networks.

 Now, the situation surrounding the industry undergoes dramatic changes as economic growth came to an end, population keeps declining and full-scale Internet society unfolds. The younger generation gets information directly from the Internet, leading to a sharp decrease in circulation and advertising revenue that causes financial difficulties for newspaper companies. While companies deliberate on how to survive the digital age, how far to keep printed newspapers or to disseminate information through the Internet, they have not come up with clear-cut direction.

 Newspapers fulfill the role of recording history, pursuing truth and monitoring the authority to ensure balanced exercise of power. Let me ask you to keep subscribing to the paper you currently enjoy.

The National Treasure Ido Tea Bowl

July 29, 2015

Mr. Koichi Nezu
Chairman, Tobu Department Store Co., Ltd.

 Today let me talk about an Ido Tea Bowl, the only one designated as a National Treasure. Please note that my entire speech is based on historical facts.

 Being one kind of the Koryö Dynasty Tea Bowls, Ido Tea Bowls are said to be the most prestigious in serving the koi-cha (thick green tea) in Japanese tea ceremony. Warlords of the 16th century, a period of civil war in Japan, treasured and collected Ido Tea Bowls. Today we find many bowls left with names of the prominent samurai daimyo families, including “Nobunaga Ido” and “Shibata Ido.”

 Ido Tea Bowls are mysterious as there are different stories about their origin, how and when they were brought from South Korea and why they came to be called Ido.

 Now let me move on to the main subject, the most celebrated Ido Tea Bowl “Kizaemon” currently owned by Kohoan, sub-temple of Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto. It originally belonged to a wealthy merchant of the 17th century (early Edo Period) in Osaka, Kizaemon Takeda, who was famous for his precious collection of exquisite tea utensils. As a result of his excessive extravagancy he eventually squandered all his fortune and lost his family. He refused to give up this bowl up to the moment he was found dead with his body covered with boils. Many warlords and merchants wished to possess this bowl after Kizaemon’s death. A feudal lord Tadayoshi Honda became the owner, followed by two wealthy merchants. Mysteriously enough, all of them died from boils.

 Harusato Matsudaira of the Matsue Domain was a prominent tea master in the late 1770s. Under the name Fumai, he published books on tea ceremony and possessed an extensive collection of tea utensils. He decided to pay a fortune to possess the bowl “Kizaemon,” overriding fierce oppositions from his wife and retainers. As rumored, Harusato came to suffer from boils and gave the bowl to his son, who again developed boils. At this point, in 1822, the wife decided to donate the bowl to Daitokuji Temple where it has been kept for almost 200 years without any more victims.

 Jumping to the present time, two prominent tea masters who I know personally talked about the bowl “Kizaemon” at Daitokuji for a magazine interview four years ago. Between them was this bowl filled with koi-cha (thick green tea). Two years after this interview, I had a chance to talk with one of the masters and asked whether he had taken tea from the bowl during the interview. He told me that both of them had, although the chief priest tried to persuade them not to. I suddenly recalled that I had visited the other master half a year earlier, who had been hospitalized for lung cancer. It is delightful that he is doing fine after his operation.

 Now, when I asked the master whether he had been fine, he confessed that he had also gone through an operation to remove a swelling on his back about one year after the interview.

 All of this convinced me that this National Treasure bowl “Kizaemon” has some mysterious power.