[Update 3: 8/5/2011] For a NEW reliable retail seller of Kiseru pipes and Koiki Tobacco please read this.
[Update 2: 10/15/2010] After some investigation and consultation with local pipe shops, the KISERU is apparently considered a "one hitter" pipe and as such is categorized as nothing more than another possible pot pipe. None of the major pipe/tobacco retailers I spoke with wanted anything to do with such "one hitters" citing major federal and state regulations. Even the head shops on Clark/Belmont Avenue, which indeed sell one-hitter pot pipes, wanted to pursue the sale of Japanese tobacco (again, citing federal/state regulations). I will continue to pursue this, though it seems the only likely current scenario is that the Kiseru pipes will be sold by a head shop and NO Japanese tobacco will be available.
[Update 1] I have been informed that as of 9/1/2010, LSANDO no longer supports the sale of Kiseru for overseas shipping. They have removed the English-translated pages from their site. The links on this page now point to only Japanese-language pages. SaruDama intends to verify with LSANDO what their policy now is regarding oversea shipping/processing and if necessary seek out an alternative location from which readers in the U.S. might obtain Japanese kiseru and tobacco.
Beautiful, isn't it?
Surely you recognize the kiseru!!
Fans of samurai and history-based Japanese films have undoubtedly seen one of these being contemplatively smoked during discussions of either covert military strategies or flirtatious banter leading to kimono-less frolics on the tatami.
My new Kiseru arrived today from Japan thanks to the excellent service I received from Living Shop Ando, one of the only places selling these authentic pipes internationally. (I'll tell you about Ando below).
Here's (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about traditional Japanese kiseru including what Japanese tobacco you put in it and how to get your own...
The term "kiseru" is said to have come (according to my SanSeido Dictionary) from the term "ksher" of the Khmer language of Cambodia. Since it is a "borrowed" word (from other cultures) "kiseru" is generally spelled using the katakana writing system. Interestingly enough, over time the kanji for "chimney" (enkan) has also taken on the (additional) pronunciation of "kiseru". (Thus a dictionary search for the term will produce both versions.)
Kiseru are almost always comprised of a tube of bamboo (or some other wood) capped by a small stem and bowl made of either silver or bronze. If you search the web for "kiseru", you will uncover many pictures of ornate Meiji and pre-Meiji kiseru pipes and accessories.
The bowl is so exceptionally small compared to Western standards that the endeavor of smoking a kiseru may seem fruitless. But please keep in mind that in Japanese culture sake is also imbibed from very tiny cups -- and that has hardly stopped them (or me) from getting a buzz on.
As far as getting my hands on one of these: I simply could not find an online store in the USA selling kiseru (and I am familiar with the major pipe/tobacco sites here). And the ONLY (trustworthy) Japanese site I could find which (a) sold kiseru online and (b) would ship abroad, is:
Living Shop Ando (www.lsando.com) owned and operated by Mr. Takamitsu Ando.
Before ordering from the site I called Living Shop Ando and found that Ando-san could speak English and was very helpful. The quality of service and information I have received from Mr. Ando has been impeccable. Thus I have absolutely no reservation recommending him to you in the event you wish to purchase one of these pipes. (And I doubt you could buy a new one elsewhere.)
Just a heads up: one Yen (¥) now roughly corresponds to a US penny (¢) -- given the credit card service and all that. Thus ¥1000 will equal roughly US $10.00 (and 45,000yen equals $450.00).
Here are some detailed views of my new kiseru:
This photo doesn't quite capture it, but the sakura leaves actually shine as bronze through the silver-plated sculptured surfaces. Who said craftmanship is dead?
Here is the whole ensemble I ordered. One pipe. A pipe and tobacco case (kamasu). And Japanese tobacco for kiseru. (PS: I ordered more than this much kiseru tobacco. More details below.)
Check this tobacco out! You can see this is nothing like Western pipe or loose-leaf cigarette tobacco. It literally comes in fine hairs. This is Japanese tobacco intentionally used for kiseru pipes. As far as I know there are only two predominant brands of kiseru tobacco -- koiki and yamabuki. What you see here is the koiki brand.
Just like the pipe, the tobacco packets are small. Koiki comes in 10 gram (0.35 Ounce) boxes each costing about 320yen. Although I have not yet fully proven this theory, each 10g package seems to hold enough for 40-50 kiseru bowls.
If you are at all interested in purchasing akiseru and its tobacco, I wholly recommend you contact Living Shop Ando.
If you choose to contact LSANDO, please mention SaruDama. (I certainly don't get any "kick-back" but) I think Ando-san will be glad to learn of our rather intense japanophile community. (But please, if you mention SaruDama's name, I ask that you represent us very courteously.)
Just to tease you, here's the collection LSANDO currently offers. (Can you see mine?) Click on the pic to view www.lsando.com.
[UPDATE: I've provided LSando's newer collection of KISERU pipes HERE.]