I am not sure what to call this – a Japanese Churchwarden?

Blog by Steve Laug

Jeff received this in an auction lot or maybe he picked it up on one of his hunts but it is somewhat like a Kiseru pipe I have from Japan. The thing that makes it different is its sheer length. The pipe is 27 inches long from tip of the mouthpiece to the edge of the canted bowl. That is 68.58 centimeters for those who use that measurement system. It is a long pipe and one that I am not sure how you would fire up. My arms are not long enough to reach the bowl with the mouthpiece in my mouth.In looking for information on the web I came across a site called www.kiseru-pipe.com. I have a small Kiseru here and have enjoyed the unique smoke. The site had this picture on the front page of the site. You can see a similarity to the one Jeff found. I don’t think it is anywhere near the length of the one I am working on.The site had some helpful information on the tobacco that is used in the pipe (http://www.kiseru-pipe.com/en/content/11-kizami-tobacco). I quote from the site regarding the tobacco that is smoked in the Kiseru pipe. It is called Kizami tabako.

“Kizami tabako” literally means “shredded tobacco.” This is in fact a traditional process of preparing and Japanese shredded tobacco. Traditionally prepared without additives and very finely chopped, kizami tobacco kizami suits particularly well to the small bowl of kiseru.

Tobacco was introduced to Japan by Portuguese in the mid 16th century. Tobacco production in Japan began in the early 17th (1610) in Tokushima.

There were many kizami tobacco producers before tobacco became a state monopoly in Japan and cigarettes supersede the kiseru.Japanese kizami tobacco factories have lasted for nearly four centuries until 1979 when production was temporarily interrupted. But because there were people who wanted to smoke this particular tobacco, and also to perpetuate this traditional know-how, production eventually took over with Koiki brand.

Two brands are currently available in Japan : Koiki ( ) and Takarabune (宝船). Koiki is a Japanese production made with native tobacco and is for these reasons,  Japanese prefered one. The second one (Takarabune), is chopped slightly less finely than the first one, and is produced by the company Flandria Tobaccos Company in Belgium (www.flandria-tobaccos.be)! 

I thought it would be interesting to give a little background information on the Kiseru pipe and a diagram with the parts displayed. This also comes the site noted above and is very helpfully described and displayed (http://www.kiseru-pipe.com/en/content/12-what-is-a-kiseru). I quote:

The kiseru are traditional Japanese pipes used for smoking tobacco. They are used in Japan since the second half of the sixteenth century. They are characterized by a small bowl where only a small quantity of tobacco can be placed, and their forms are generally very fine and elegant. Most of the kiseru are made of metal and bamboo but there are also many models entirely in metal or even in ceramics. Some models are very simple and have little value, others on the contrary are true works of art, finely worked and sculpted. Between these two extremes there is a range of kiseru very different from each other, wether old or new, their are models for everyone!Here is a video that we made to show many different sorts of kiseru, some of which are very uncommon (and some of which were sold on our website!)


With that information let’s look at the one Jeff found. It is large as noted above. The metal bowl and shank, or Hizara is 4 inches long. The bowl itself has an outer diameter of 1 inch, an inner diameter of 5/8 of an inch and a height of 7/8 of an inch. It is good to know that it can be smoked with both Kizami and regular tobacco.The mouthpiece and lip, or Suikuchi and Kuchimoto is 5 ¼ inches long and the bamboo shank, or Do is 20 ¼ inches long. Both the bowl and the mouthpiece are decorated with Japanese characters and designs.I took the pipe apart and took photos of the parts for your viewing. It really is a unique piece.I close this blog with a section from the website on how to smoke and clean a Kiseru (http://www.kiseru-pipe.com/en/content/10-how-to-use-a-kiseru).

How to use a kiseru

Take a pinch of tobacco rolled into a small ball about the size of the “hizara” (the bowl of a kiseru). Traditionally, it is lighted on with embers in the “hi-ire”,the fireplace of a tabako-bon. Of course, it’s possible to simply use matches or even a lighter. Kiseru matchesThere is also a Japanese brand of matches specifically for kiseru. Those are quite long matches which is convenient for kiseru use : the rest of the match uncalcined being used for scraping the bowl after smoking.

After lighting the kiseru, take a few puffs, and then, to get rid of the ashes stucked into the bowl, tap the “gankubi” on the edge of the ashtray “hai-otoshi” of the tabako-bon. If you use an ordinary ashtray take care not to damage the gankubi. In Japan, “hai-otoshi” are usually made of wood which is softer than a metal or glass ashtray. Some also tap directly gankubi against the palm of their hand.

Some people fear that the small size of the kiseru bowl is not convenient to use, but during centuries Japanese enjoyed the kiseru way of smoking tobacco, and the size of the bowl has never been a problem. The “kizami” tobacco is particularly suitable, but Western tobacco can also be smoked in kiseru.There are naturally no rules on how one should hold a kiseru… Yet, the above image shows four traditional ways to hold a kiseru allocated to different categories of individuals : (1) 町人 chonin “townspeople”, (2) 博徒 bakuto “tenants of dens”, (3) 武士 bushi “samurai”, (4) 農民 Nomin “peasants”.

In fact, this is how kabuki (Japanese traditional theater) actors should hold a kiseru while they play these roles…

Recently Japanese also use kiseru in different ways: Kiseru experiencing a revival in Japan among both younger and older people, some of them have found original ways to use kiseru:

– Cutting a cigarette (approx. 2 cm) and pushing it directly in the bowl “hi-zara”.

– Using only the beak of the kiseru “suikuchi” as a cigarette-holder.

How to clean a kiseru

Naturally, it is more pleasant to smoke with a clean kiseru. As for any other pipes, it is recommended to clean the kiseru after each use.

Usually, the bamboo pipe “Rau-kiseru” can be replaced if necessary: metal tips are simply nested (without glue or other) which allows to ‘dismantle’ the kiseru and change the bamboo if damaged. Tips are thus not permanently attached to the pipe, except for “all metal” kiseru, which parts are welded together.

In the past, as shown on the woodblock-print below, people used washi (traditional Japanese paper) to clean the kiseru. Washi that was produced at that time was very strong but now it is the quality is not so good and the frays in the kiseru, leaving small pieces of paper that eventually clog the kiseru. (It is fascinating to not that the one I have is similar in length to the one in the old woodblock print above.)

Now, it is recommended run a pipe cleaner back and forth through the stem to clean it. Pipe cleaners do not fray and can absorb moisture and remove dirt and tar.

Metal parts

Some metals tend to oxidize over time. This is unavoidable but it is not a big problem. Just use ordinary metal polish and soft dry cloth. It is better to do it from time to time regularly…

Special thanks to www.kiseru-pipe.com for the helpful information. Give their site a visit if you want to purchase or even learn more about the Japanese Kiseru.

7 thoughts on “I am not sure what to call this – a Japanese Churchwarden?

  1. Pingback: Cleaning up a Japanese Kiseru Pipe | rebornpipes

  2. Robert M. Boughton

    It could be a kiseru, but it looks to me like a Turkish shisha pipe a friend of mine (my best customer with about seven regular tobacco pipes) brought to our pipe club meeting last month. Yours is much, much longer, however! I can’t attach the pic I found online of a similar one, so I’ll email it to you and maybe you can post it!

      1. Robert M. Boughton

        I saw that. I’ve just seen more shisha pipes with bowls that size. Actually I’m not sure they’re Turkish, though. The ones I’m thinking of are made for very strong, silt-thin tobacco that’s grown in some specific region, maybe the Mid-East. I saw some of the stuff that’s smoked in kiseru pipes online, and it’s coarser. Good luck figuring it out!


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