Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kiseru - きせる

kiseru-1

I was first exposed to kiseru, a long Japanese pipe made from bamboo with metal fittings on each end, in passing from a guy who use to work at my local bar. He would smoke it while working which the bar owner frowned upon it because he thought it had a bad image. Jump forward 6 months and my pal Joe got one as a birthday gift. Joe's an interesting fellow; he doesn't drink or smoke cigarettes, but he's a huge pipe and cigar smoker. He's gotten me back into cigar smoking, and now pipe smoking. The night he received the pipe we all went out to karaoke and I tried smoking the kiseru for the first time. I totally fell in love with it and knew I had to buy one for my self. Well I finally got around to doing that. I went down to Sugimoto liquor and cigar shop in Kobe's Motomachi district (in the shopping arcade that starts in front of the the Kobe Daimaru) and asked for one. The lady walked into a corner of their stuffed store and from a closet pulled out a plastic box with a selection of kiseru. I chose this basic model for ¥1,700, but they had smaller and larger more ornate ones starting at ¥700 to around ¥7,000. The tobacco is quite surprising, nothing like typical rolling tobacco I've smoked in the states. It's very dry and cut in to long strands. I gather that there are only two brands available, but I've only seen Koiki from the giant Japanese tobacco company JT for sale.

I asked the shop's owner how to prepare the pipe and he said just brushing the inside with a pipe cleaner was all I needed to do. No soap or water needed. Guessing from past smoking experiences and other sources, I packed the bowl by wetting my fingers on my tongue then pinched out a bit of the tobacco and rolled it into a pea sized ball. Like a cigarette you inhale kiseru tobacco but not as deeply as you would a cigarette. Lighting and smoking must be done gently as if you suck too hard you might pull ash into your mouth. You also need to be careful of blowing back into the kiseru as the lit tobacco will pop out of the bowl quite easily. Although the first few tries are a bit awkward at best, getting to understand the method of smoking the kiseru becomes quite easy. It's also important to pay attention to how much is left in the bowl. Sucking in ash is quite degusting. The perfered method of emptying the bowl is to tap it firmly aginst your hand. I would guess that hitting it against an ashtray might damage the pipe fitting.

Besides the taste and the pleasant feeling you get from the tobacco I also like the kiseru because it takes time. The process of smoking becomes much more important. It's not so fast and easy as a cigarette. You cannot do this while driving or walking. It requires patience and time. In my busy rushed life I found the time it takes to pack and smoke the kiseru quite relaxing. It can be unnerving smoking the kiseru because everyone, Japanese and foreigners alike will look at you. I'm not sure if it has a bad image, but in a country of smokers this will really make you stand out.

This blog has a quite interesting write up about the kiseru along with the etymology of the word and a review of an online store that sells and ships kiseru world wide. The shops webpage in English, here, also has some links to some interesting videos about kiseru although all in Japanese.

Kiseru also has another meaning in Japanese. Kiserunori means cheating on train fare by buying the first and last parts of your journey and riding the longest most expensive part in the middle for free. This mimics the construction of the kiseru with gold, or metal, on each end with bamboo in the middle.

Happy smoking!

13 comments:

Gloria said...

Thank you so much, I been looking for article like this for a long time.I totally agree what you said.

Leareth said...

Thank you very much for this, I am fortunate enough to have an aunt who travels back and froth between Japan frequently and I requested a Kiseru from her; she sent it and she was good enough to send some appropriate tobacco as well. Since I've never smoked a pipe I had been wondering on how to do so and you've given me enough information for me to give it a try if i choose to.

David said...

Thank you for the comment. If you've never smoked before you might find the kiseru pretty strong. Good Luck!

Leareth said...

I've smoked before, preferred colts cigars. and I have one occasionally still. XD I just realized, the tobacco she got for me is exactly the same as what you have in your picture!

David said...

There are only two brands that I've seen mentioned and, besides that one in the picture, I've never seen the second brand for sale.

Anonymous said...

Hello folks, I live here in Japan and actually have a collection of 'Kiseru' handed down to me by my spouse's family. many of them dating back to the Edo and Meiji eras. (Lucky....) Recently, I came across a very tasty and bold blend of Kiseru tobacco called Takara-Bune. It's mostly specially grown Virginia tobacco blended with a bit of others. But, It's gooood. It's fairly cheap here locally running about 500yen for 20grams. So, look it up, get some, and enjoy!!!

David said...

Hello Anon!

You're right. Takarabune is much better than the other stuff. It says something about being made in Belgium with Virgina tobacco on the bag if I remember right. Weird. Also there's a great explanation of the different styles of kiseru under the flap, in Japanese of course.

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

No prob, sir. Glad to be of some use.
The other stuff just reminds me too much of gorilla hair.
Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just purchased a old kiseru made of .950 silver but the middle section of bamboo is very short only 3". I would like to change this out to one of regular size maybe 7". Do you know how I could order such a thing. I want to pair it with a pipe case that I have.

Thank you for your help

David Kawabata said...

I took my kiseru apart once to clean it. Don't know how you'd find a part the right size. I guess you could buy a new kiseru the length you want with the same diameter bamboo and try to swap them. I wouldn't if the pipe is actually an antique as it would lower it's value.

viktoreldrich said...

If you go to medwakh.com they have koiki in 2 diff blends and an assortment of other tobaccos from all around asia the price is a little high but the shippind is exceptionally fast

Russell Stutler said...

I've seen three kizami tobacco brands here in Japan (I live in Tokyo): Japanese brand Koike, plus two from Belgium: Takara-bune which is failry mild and Kuro-fune which is much stronger (it reminds me of a cigar). My heavy-smoker friend can inhale Takara-bune but not Kuro-fune. I personally prefer Koike and so do all my Japanese friends.

As for changing the middle bamboo (or wood) section(called RAU and pronounced RAH-OO), some pipe stores in Japan have these, and you could probably find a length of bamboo from other sources. Bamboo naturally tapers, so you can cut it down until it fits the diameter of the metal ends. Interestingly, the mouth piece usually has a different diameter from that of the smoking piece so they both can perfectly fit on both ends of the bamboo.

David Kawabata said...

I'll have to look out for that 3rd kind and give it a try. Thanks for the information Russell.