Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chozubachi Stone

This weekend Jeff and I had a Sunday morning trip planned to the Machida Shrine Sale. This sale is on the first of each month, except January. Figuring that this would be the only chance Jeff would have to go for a long while (May and August are the only two months in 2010 that fall on a weekend), he was a good sport and agreed to set out on another adventure outside the gates. We left early, map in hand hoping to score a few hits with some items I hand in mind.

There is a center here on base called the Fleet and Family Support Center that offers some great classes, information and among other things directions to some of the more popular destinations within driving distance. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that they even have directions at all … it’s just well, somehow every single time we follow the FFSC directions we manage to get lost. And this outing was no different. The hopes of getting up and back to the shrine sale in a timely manner were soon dashed as we tried to decipher what “turn right after 7-11 5 minutes” exactly meant. Finally realizing we must have missed the turn and were now 20km passed where we thought we should be we turned around, hoping if we retraced our steps we would stumble on the Shrine Sale. Finally, matching the Kanji we found the location for the sale … but there was nothing there. After all of that, it turns out that for some reason it was not being held that day. Sigh.

Not to be deterred from having a total loss of an outing, Jeff decides to pull into a stone shop that we have passed by probably a half dozen times – usually on a way to one of the children’s sporting events, that we are already late for because … we got lost. Each time, he hears “ooooooh! Look, there’s that stone shop, I sure wish we could stop there sometime … it looks like they have some really cool things for a garden.” I guess he figured with no children in the car, no sporting event that we were trying to make, now was as good a time as any. He squeezes our car into a teeny, tiny parking space (there was only one) that is just inches away from the main road that has cars and trucks whizzing by at top speeds. We step out to discover there is a beautiful Koi pond, with a stone bridge crossing over it and a waterfall with a moss covered frog that the water spills out of. It was an unexpected treasure! I walk around seeing many items I would love to have, while I think Jeff was checking his pulse rate as he went into sticker shock. I had warned him and said that these stone pieces were expensive – maybe he and I need to have a discussion about what the definition of expensive is. Clearly we have a different price point! I finally settle on what is probably the least expensive item on the lot, a stone water basin – and the older gentleman who was helping me guides me into a little building and offers me a seat at a table and then promptly disappears. I think to myself, “well, this is different. I figured I’d point, pay and go but no this is clearly not the way a business transaction is handled in Japan.” My cultural education continues.

While I am seated at the table, wondering now what? Did they misunderstand, and where is Jeff? Jeff pops his head in to see what is going on, and why is it taking so long to buy a “rock.” Next thing we know we have tea being served to us and Jeff is now seated next to me and Mr. T. Ebisawa starts to pull out several books. I’m thinking “uh, oh … something just got lost in translation and he thinks we want him to create a Japanese Tea Garden or something like that” - but no he is actually taking the time to show us a garden book that has the flower that the stone chozubachi is modeled after! “Wild Beach Chrysanthemum” Asteraceae Heteropappus hispidus var. Arenarius, is a coastal flower, and best as I can tell native to Japan.

I found this photo off of the Wild Beach Chrysanthemum off of the mitomori website .

Mr. T. Ebisawa then pulls out a few more books, one of which is The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura – which to Jeff’s surprise I said “oh, I have that book!” This book is considered a classic essay on “tea drinking, its history, restorative powers and rich connection to the Japanese culture.” The granite stone water basins, chozubachi, or crouching bowl, were designed by Japanese tea maters for guests to wash their hands and rinse their mouth as a symbol of purification. These low crouching bowls were meant to humble the guest and create the right state of mind in the tea garden before entering the tea house. Often these bowls are fed with water from a bamboo spout called a “kakei.” Mr. T. Ebisawa, proceeded to pull out a kakei … but we would have to save that purchase for another day.

As we were wrapping up our transaction Mr. T. Ebisawa gave us the brochure for the Ishino Yoshidaya Company – beautiful shrine lanterns for me to save my penny’s (or Yen?) for. Jeff and I both noticed at the top of the business card attached to the brochure it had “Since 1592” – we pointed to this and Mr. T Ebisawa proudly stated that their company had been in business for more than 400 years. Jeff and I just started laughing, talk about cultural history! (The closest American company I could find was J.E. Rhoads and Sons, 1702 – they make conveyor belts today, but started as a tanner and harness maker.)

As we rode back home, with our chozubachi carefully wrapped in the back of the car with instructions to “not scrub off the moss,” we talked about how much time and care Mr. T. Ebisawa took with us – even though we were probably his lowest sale of the week, you would never have known it. He treated us like we were buying the most expensive shrine lantern on the lot. He was patient, treated us like guests in his home by offering us tea and took the time to educate 2 Americans on one more aspect of this very rich culture. This outing turned out to be one of my favorite memories so far, and it reminds me that just when you think you’ve had a bust of a day, if you open your eyes and your heart life’s happenstance will reward you greatly.

Till next time, sayonara.


  1. Hello- You still here? I stumbled onto your blog (which I am enjoying, having done business in Japan over the years) while searching for Master Ebisawa, a stone artist who was a famous maker of all kinds of granite lanterns and sculptures. Your "Mr. T. Ebisawa" sounds like he may be the man I am looking for. I just remember his stone yard being about a 30 minute train ride from Shimbashi station in Tokyo. I bought three large granite lanterns from him, which he shipped to us here in Denver. If you think Mr. T is my guy, can you perhaps tell me how to get in touch? Hope you are fine, domo arigato, and best regards, Jim Frasche

  2. Oh, yes- you can find me at


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