How to choose your kiseru


plenty of kiseru available

 

 

Just choose the one made for you

There are many kinds of kiserus so you should find the one made for you. There are plenty of different models from the very elegant thin “memochi” kiserus designed for women to the impressive big “kenka” (fight) kiserus with samurai or dragon designed for men. But The more choices you have, the harder it is to choose… Should you go for one style or another, for a new one or old one, for a cheap one or expensive one…
Hereafter are a few hints that should help you to make your choice.


New kiserus vs old kiserus
If you go for a new kiseru, the good point is that you should not worry about the overall condition yet you have to know that more and more of the new cheap lookalike kiserus are made in China or India. We believe the kiserus made by Japanese craftsmen is the best guaranty of quality and genuineness and buying made in Japan kiseru is a way to support Japanese craftsmen to perpetuate this unique ancestral tradition (that is the reason why we exclusively propose kiserus made by Japanese craftsmen).
Buying new is a good way to get a kiseru for a reasonable price without fearing to be disappointed when delivered. Some internet shops sell old kiserus for cheap price (sometime not so cheap) which are just not smokable. Sometimes the bamboo might be slit which should be easy to check out but sometimes also the ferrules are uncoupled from the bamboo which you cannot check. In both cases, you cannot use the kiseru and it is extremely hazardous to try to find the perfect size bamboo to fix it by yourself (in Japan, this used to be the work of “rau-ya” but there only very few of them left). Before buying an old kiseru you should make sure the shop is reliable and the kiseru is actually smokable.

On the other hand, the best thing about old kiserus –apart the special charm of antiques– is that you can get a very unique model usually with superior quality. There are now very few craftsmen left in Japan able to make the extremely fine work that used to be in ancient times and if there is it takes so long and so much know-how to make one that it would be unaffordable price. The prices for old kiserus vary from a few dollars to thousands but it is still possible to find some nice and unique solid silver antique for one or two hundred dollars. Of course most of the old kiserus have been used and don’t look like new but that’s also part of the charm. If you feel concerned by the hygiene of such used kiseru, you can clean it with a pipe cleaner and alcohol (usual pipe cleaners would usually make it perfectly).
By the way sellers sometimes mention some unreliable dating for old kiserus. The golden age of kiserus was Edo period which ended in 1868. The older a kiseru is the more valuable it is, so some sellers might want –consciously or not– to overage their items. Almost the only way that a kiseru might be precisely dated is when there is a famous craftsman sign on it (which then means it is extremely high quality and so expensive you would would expect to see it in a museum more -than on a web shop… ). In fact, most of the old kiseru you will see are usually from Meiji (1868-1912) or Taisho (1912-1926) eras but are difficult to date very precisely.

But there is also an alternative solution : the unused old kiserus. Most of the time they are kiserus from stocks of closed old shop or manufacture. Thus, these kiserus are usually 50 years old or more and might be a good compromise: affordable price for a good quality (well these are usually quite ordinary models, not the great really old solid silver kiserus). But because they have never been used it combines in a way some good points of the old and new kiserus…

 

What kind of kiseru should you choose

« Rau » vs « nobe »
The two main kinds of kiseru. The first one, called “rau-kiseru” are usually made of bamboo stem and metallic tips. The second one “nobe-kiseru” are made of just one piece of metal (no bamboo).
When you choose your own kiseru, you should consider that nobe-kiseru are a little easier to clean and almost unbreakable. On the other hand, the bamboo stem of the rau-kiseru gives it a nice warm charm that may miss to the nobe-kiseru…


The right length for your kiseru
The length of a kiseru is not merely aesthetic choice. The longer the kiseru is the milder the tobacco tastes. The bamboo stem of a rau-kiseru also work as a filter and here again it’s proportional to the length. But… a short one is much easier to carry out.


What materials?
Except from very special kiserus (i.e.: made of glass or ceramic), kiserus usually have metallic parts. Then, the price of a kiseru depends a lot on the metal of which it is made.
All metals, apart from gold or stainless steel, tend to oxidize. This is no big deal, to make it shiny again you just need to use occasionally ordinary metal polish and a soft cloth.
For some old kiserus, the mouth piece is made of solid gold (if they have been used, most of the time they would have nibbled marks because gold is a very soft metal). Solid silver has been used a lot for kiseru making and is still used by some craftsmen (see in our catalogue Mr Ishida’s kiseru!). Solid silver usually is obviously a good guaranty for a nice quality kiseru. But brass is by far the most used for kiseru making.
The weight of a kiseru might be a good hint for its quality. For example a 20 cm (8 inches) rau-kiseru under 20 grams is very light which means probably rather cheap making with little metal (this lowers the cost but also the quality…) On the opposite, if this 20 cm rau-kiseru weights 30 grams or more, this is probably a sign of superior quality. When smoking, it is also a better feeling to hold this king of little heavier kiseru. This doesn't apply to "memochi-kiseru" (kiseru for women) which are very thin and may be of very good quality under 20 g.
Some of the new or recent kiserus are plated with gold or silver. Like any other plated items, they should be handled with care to avoid altering the plating (when smoking and cleaning the kiseru).
Solid silver tips rau-kiserus are often nicely worked (engraved, inlay of different metals,…) The price depends also a lot on this work.
Please notice that most of solid silver kiserus are punched with the characters 純銀 (« pure silver ») or only one of these two characters. But sometimes solid silver kiseru don’t have this mark.
Old kiseru of exceptionnal quality are usually signed by the artist. These are most of the time real goldsmith work of art and if they are in good condition their price is very expensive from a few hundreds dollars to thousands.

 

What kind of use ?
Collectors would usually chose rare models of finely worked old kiserus… their private treasure that they will keep preciously in a drawer or proudly show in a window. For this kind of use, the infinite variety of old kiserus makes them quite addictive and it is possible to gather a very nice and interesting collection which value can only rise as time goes by.
If you are looking for a kiseru not specially as a collector but simply for smoking then the choice is even wider. Some will go for very nice and expensive models old or new while others will prefer an ordinary kiseru that they will simply smoke every day. If you plan to use your kiseru a lot then maybe you should avoid plated kiserus which are more delicate to use
If you plan to smoke your kiseru only from time to time, we would probably recommend some nice ancient model that you can also display on a shelf when not using it.
Japanese people also make a distinction between “home kiseru” that you would smoke comfortably at home and “take-out kiseru” easy to carry outside. The very long kiseru such as “oiran” style are clearly made for home use. About 20 cm / 8 inches kiserus can be used either at home or out. The short ones such as “mame-kiserus” or “natamame-kiserus” which are about 15 cm / 6 inches long are very easy to carry but less comfortable to smoke are mainly made to smoke outside the house.

 

Well… we hope this “short” article will help you to make the best choice of kiseru but the most important is to find a kiseru that you like the best… The one that was made for you !