A modern plan for adding a writing desk (tsukeshoin) to your home

The Times of Rikyu
Salons and Douboushu (Pt. 2)
by YAMAMOTO Kenichi (Sept. 2011)

Douboushu had various areas of specialty  They went from being merely doing chores to being experts knowledgeable in arts like sarugaku, renka poetry, and flower arrangements. They also served as wine custodians. They had the duty of testing and selecting the wine drunk at banquets and of choosing the wine glasses.

Learning that they served as the custodian of imported goods, I could wholeheartedly agree. The douboushu were appointed to this duty as a formal office in the Muromachi shogunate. It was their role to judge between high, mid, and low quality imported goods from Ming China and Chosen. Gifts to garner favour with the Shogunal House were many. At that time, since there was nothing more precious than imported goods, people vied to present the finest crafts and artwork. The custodian of imported goods evaluated and gave an assessment of these works, suggesting what sort of present should be given in return. Also, they were in charge of the custody and maintenance of the goods, and of displaying them in the mansion.

The mansions of warrior houses during the Kamkura period did not yet have a tokonoma. There was a beam set on the wall and in front of that was place a small desk called an “oki-oshiita” where flowers and incense burners were displayed. That oki-oshiita, as kaisho architecture developed, became an oshiita-toko alcove that was built into the room. On the other hand, a tatami covered kamachi-toko developed in rooms with a raised floor. I’ve already written about that, but the first time I realize it was upon writing this article and examining the photograph of the early shoin style architecture at Yoshino-yama Yoshimizu Shrine.

Yoshimizu Shrine: The chigai-dana and writing desk are somewhat obscured by the armor displayed upon the kamachi-doko.

Legend says that Yoshimizu Shrine was built as a temporary palace for the Southern Court of Emperor Go-Daigo when they fled to Yoshino. We unfortunately don’t yet have any evidence, but at the same shrine currently exists the oldest mansion with a shoin room. It likely remains standing from the beginning of the Muromachi period. Of course, it has a room used as a kaisho. Upon looking at the photograph, this room has two alcoves: both a oshita and a kamachi-doko. They are both a large two ken long, and the kamachi-doko has a writing desk and chigai-dana attached.

Carefully arranging items in just this open space alone must have required outstanding discernment. The douboushu passed down this discernment as trade secrets. These secrets were collected in the Kun Daikan Sau Chouki written by Noami and completed by Souami. “Daikan” means mansions or palaces, so it is a record (chouki) of the goods displayed all over (sau) the living areas of lords (kun).
This book starts first by ranking over 150 Chinese artists into high, middle, and low quality. It concretely explains and illustrates how to displays those pictures and how to arrange incense burners, jikirou bowls, seal cases, and inkstone along with water jars and brushes. Also, it established that among ceramics, Youhen bowls rank above all, followed by Yuteki bowls, with Kensan bowls being last.

Although all these trade secrets were accumulated, how much time and toil must the douboushu have exerted! The douboushu had assiduously built up these trade secrets of display that were secretly passed down, but Rikyu Koji overturned this foundation and, with a completely new aesthetic sense, formulated wabi-cha. It’s impossible that such personages wouldn’t clash.