Chaya Shirojiro (茶屋四郎次郎)

Shirojiro CHAYA was a wealthy merchant in Kyoto from the Shokuho era (Oda-Toyotomi era) to the early Edo period.
It was customary for family head to inherit the name 'Shirojiro CHAYA.'
However, it is said that the first, the second and the third family heads were the most successful (notes on them are found below).


The main name of the Chaya family is 'the Nakajima clan.'
According to their family tradition, 'the ancestor came from Mikawa Province,' but that is not certain.

The first generation Shirojiro Kiyonobu assisted Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's party on its way fleeing back to its home province after the Honnoji Incident, and this enabled him to become one of the merchants with the Tokugawa family's warrant. The second generation Shirojiro Kiyotada, while he became a merchant with the Edo bakufu's (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) warrant, he was also appointed to the head of townspeople in Kyoto, and he became influential. The third generation Shirojiro Kiyotsugu continued to serve as a merchant holding the bakufu's warrant, and furthermore, he obtained the special privilege to the shuinsen boeki (trading by ships with a shogunal charter for foreign trade from the late 16th century to the mid-17th century) and he acquired great wealth. With that wealth, he collected tea utensils and he became a patron of the arts.

The first through third family heads marked the pinnacle of the Chaya family as merchants, and they were known as 'the three millionaires of Kyoto' along with 'the Suminokura family' of Ryoi SUMINOKURA and 'the Goto family' of Shozaburo GOTO. However, they were unable to keep up with the changing times and seclusionism, and they did not prosper after the mid-Edo period. They are considered to be an epitome of a 'privileged merchant,' which was common among the wealthy merchants during the early Edo period.

It is said that Tsuneo NAKAJIMA, the administrative director of Tokyo University of Social Welfare, self-claims to be a descendent of the Chaya family's branch family, the Owari Chaya family (with the third son of Kiyonobu as the patriarch).

Representative Family Heads

First generation, Kiyonobu CHAYA (1545 - August 20, 1596)

He is considered to be the 'first generation of the Chaya family,' who went to the capital (Kyoto) from Mikawa Province, established his residence in Kyoto and began his business. At the 'Honnoji Incident' he used a post horse to deliver the news to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's party, that was staying in Sakai City, and during the escape later known as "Shinkun Iga Goe" he gave moral as well as material assistance. Based on this assistance he provided, he was granted Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's warrant as a merchant.

Second generation, Kiyotada CHAYA (year of birth not known - May 11, 1603)

He was the eldest son of the first family head. He succeeded to his father's position and served as a merchant holding the Tokugawa family's warrant. After the death of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, as Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's power became immense, Kiyotada was appointed as director of commodity distribution in Kyoto and Osaka, such as 'the Yodogawa Kashobune Shihai' (manager who supervises boats that run regularly on the Yodo-gawa River), and he received preferential treatment. However, he died early at a young age.

The third generation, Kiyotsugu CHAYA (1584 - August 22, 1622)

He was a younger brother of the second generation family head, and because of his older brother's sudden death, he succeeded immediately by the order of Edo bakufu. He took over as a merchant holding the Edo bakufu's warrant, and he also served as an assistant to the local governor of Nagasaki. In 1612, he successfully obtained the special privilege in the shuinsen boeki, and he acquired a tremendous amount of wealth by sending ships mostly to Northern Vietnam. Though he was close to Koetsu HONAMI and passionately supported the arts, he died at a young age of 35.

It is said that Kiyotsugu was the one who recommended the 'sea bream tempura' to Ieyasu, which is said to be the cause of death of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA.