Kotenmyō-hiragumo

古天明平蜘蛛

Matsunaga Hisahide destroying the Hiragumo kettle at Shigisan Castle

The Kotenmyō-hiragumo was a precious tea kettle owned by Matsunaga Hisahide, a bushō who lived during the Sengoku period.  The incident involving this tea kettle occurred when Hisahide destroyed the invaluable piece in a final act of defiance before taking his own life while under attack by Oda forces at Shigisan Castle in the tenth month of 1577.

The term kotenmyō indicates the period from the Shōchō era (1428 to 1429) to the Tenbun era (1532 to 1555) while items manufactured after this period are referred to as gotenmyō.  During this period, there were two primary groups of tea kettles in Japan – Ashiya kettles (from Kyūshū) and Tenmyō kettles (from the eastern region).  The coveted kotenmyō kettles were produced in Tenmyō in Shimotsuke Province.  The tea kettle in this incident had the appearance of a spider crawling about the surface, so it was named the Hiragumo (spider) kettle.

When Matsunaga Hisahide submitted to Oda Nobunaga, he presented Nobunaga with a precious Chinese tea kettle known as the Tsukumo-kaminasu.  Thereafter, he refused to give another piece, the kotenmyō-hiragumo, coveted by Nobunaga.  In the tenth month of 1577, at the Siege of Shigisan Castle, Hisahide was attacked by Oda forces and killed himself.  Unwilling to allow the precious kettle to fall into the possession of Nobunaga, he destroyed it before killing himself by smashing the kettle.  Based on a later, unsubstantiated dramatization, he packed it with gunpowder and blew-up the utensil and himself.

Contrary to this outcome, there are theories that the kettle still exists.  According to one account, after the fall of Shigisan Castle, Tarao Genba collected the fragments of the kettle and restored the piece.  The diaries of a tea master known as Tsuda Sōgyū note that, on 5/13 of Tenshō 8 (1580), Tarao Tsunatomo, one of the members of the Wakae Group of Three, utilized the Hiragumo kettle in a tea ceremony.

At a museum in Kanzanji, Shizuoka, there is a kettle identified as the Hiragumo kettle that was excavated at the remains of Shigisan Castle, given to and cherished by Nobunaga.

According to the genealogical records of the Yagyū family who had close relations with Hisahide, the Hiragumo kettle destroyed by Hisahide during the attack was a replica while the genuine kettle had been entrusted to his friend, Yagyū Shōginan.