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Tsuen Masahisa & The Battle of Uji Bridge

On the north east side of the Uji Bridge is a building that dates back to 1673 of a company that traces its foundation to 1160. The Tsuen Teahouse.

Tsuen Tea House, the oldest teahouse in Japan and possibly in the world, the 13th oldest company in Japan, and the 30th oldest company in the world, was founded in Uji in 1160. Established by Furukawa Unai, a samurai vassal of Minamoto no Yorimasa, who would later change his name to Tsuen Masahisa, the teahouse is currently run by a 24th generation member of the Tsuen family. The building (pic below) as it stands today incorporates parts that date back to 1673, a fine example of Machiya architecture, and recognized as a Cultural Property by Kyoto Prefecture.

After retiring from his samurai roles, Furukawa adopted the name Tsuen, became a monk, and took his residence at the north east end of Uji Bridge. His descendants carried on the Tsuen surname, serving as guardians of the bridge, praying for its durability and the safety of those that crossed over it. Amongst those that came to Tsuen for this service were such historical figures as shoguns Ashikaga Yoshimasa and Tokugawa Ieyasu, as well as the leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Tsuen is not just a place to purchase tea of Uji but also has a seating area inside that looks out over the Uji River. Inside the entrance, on display are ceramic tea jars several hundred years old, along with a small wooden statue of the Tsuen founder presented by the renowned 15th century monk Ikkyu Osho. Also displayed is a wooden bucket reputed to have been made by the famous tea ceremony practitioner Sen no Rikyu (the 16th century tea master to Oda Nobunaga who would later commit ceremonial suicide at the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi).

So what became of the old samurai turned monk turned tea maker in his later years. Well it certainly didn't end with a quiet retirement! In 1180 at the first Battle of Uji (pic above, the Uji Bridge), Tsuen joined with Minamoto no Yorimasa and fought against the vast army of the Taira. As they crossed the Uji Bridge they tore up the wooden planks to stop the Taira from crossing. Arrows rained across at the Minamoto and eventually the Taira forces made a horseback crossing. Vastly outnumbered and knowing that defeat was imminent, Yorimasa and Tsuen committed seppukku in the gardens of Byodo-in. Yorimasa's head was claimed to have been thrown into the Uji River by one of his own men to avoid it falling into the hands of his enemy and being paraded as a trophy after the battle. Pictured below, Uji River by Koshiji Temple.

When visited locations featured on the HIDDEN PATHS site please be aware of and adhere to any covid-19 restrictions and advisories in place.

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Eric Messersmith
Eric Messersmith
Sep 23, 2021

Beautiful photos of a place everyone should visit.

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