In search of Japanese Teaware
Last year I visited Taiwan.
At that time my tea ware focus was driven by yixing.
No, I did not get any on that trip, due to lack of time.
This four day excursion, not nearly adequate time to satisfy my desire, or search.
I was lucky enough to find a tea vessel that would serve as an excellent memory of my visit (I ❤️ Taiwan).
Upon my return I made a point to add to my collection with several pots of all shapes, sizes and colors.
I was given an opportunity, this year, to visit Japan.
Another trip that ranked “beyond my wildest dreams.”
I vowed to bring back tea ware and made this desire part of my mission wherever I visited.
I’m grateful that many of the group also had this as their focus as well.
I bought a few pieces that I truly liked, but time being short; I was not able to find out much about the items.
And unlike my dear friend, Darlene, did not spend time “testing the pour.”
Upon arriving home and spending a few days slowly unpacking my tea ware memorabilia.
I began seeing similar items showing up on social media and on websites that carry beautiful wares that many consider works of art as well as function.
I started researching my treasures and was quite surprised by what I found.
Tea sommelier Florent Wegue (who I had no idea who he was at the time), mentioned that the kyûsu I chose, created by a highly recognized up and coming potter.
His point, I acknowledged, but didn’t truly register, due to time constraints, and my mission to find more tea ware.
I became intrigued when I noticed a posting of a similar pot on Instagram, posted by living_tea_house. I wondered did this artisan also create my pot?
In Japan, we received a lovely “coffee table” book “I Know JAPANESE TEA”, “History, Tradition, and today’s Japanese tea culture in Shizuoka”.
My friend Darlene reviewed the contents and called me immediately to relay the fact that a kyûsu similar to mine was in the book.
I began my search and found in several references, that yes this Tokoname could have been created by Taisuke Shiraiwa.*
On a website I also saw several photos of , what looks like,my actual kyusu.
Could this be number 27?
Another point I was unaware of was the importance of the box that encased this treasure.
The box adds value to the contents, not just for the protection of the contents. Usually signed by the potter, and many times a “tomobako” will have a piece of paper over it to protect the calligraphy. Read more about it here:
(*the word “tomobako” refers to the wooden box that often accompanies a porcelain piece made in Japan. This wooden box made from Paulowania tree)
Thrilled, I was off on a mission to find out about the other items I had procured on this trip, and again was charmed by what I found.
Tokoname Small Brown WoodGrain HouHin
Toju (Sugie Hirotaka) Potter
1932 Born in Tokoname
1947 Study teapot making under Shuraku
Born in 1932 in Tokoname City, a center of Japanese ceramics production, Toju was a ceramics artisan by birth – his father made earthen pipes, and his older brother was a flowerpot maker. He began assisting his father and brother when he was in elementary school, and got his start on the pottery wheel making water bowls for chickens. Toju took charge of throwing large flowerpots on the wheel.
The warm and elegantly simple designs that Toju creates have gathered enthusiastic fans who have long supported the artist, and the fact that he has taken no successor makes the limited number of the pots he makes all the more valuable.
“By now, I’m making the pots to keep my mind sharp as much as anything else, but the fact that people want the pieces I make is a happy blessing. My life as a potter has always been fairly smooth – I haven’t encountered too many hard times. I’m grateful for that more than anything.”
Mogake Shiboridashi by Hakusan Katayama III
“He is born in Tokoname, a region famous for its outstanding quality of pottery. Tokoname located in Aichi prefecture.
Hakusan is born in a family with longstanding pottery tradition and studied under his father Tadayoshi. He is a member of the Japan Sencha Crafts Association and the Tokoname Handmade Teapot Association and won several local and national prices for his pottery.”
Here is a bit of history about Tokoname ware *
There have been kilns in use in Tokoname possibly since the later stages of the Heian period. Ancient kilns have been discovered all over Japan, from Hiroshima to as far north as Aomori Prefecture – but the number of kilns counted in Tokoname number over 3000, more than any other area of Japan.
They are believed to be the oldest kilns in the history of Japanese ceramics, and although there were several other areas in Japan that specialized in ceramics at the time, none of them could compare to Tokoname’s number of kilns and quality products.
Tokoname products could be transported all over Japan thanks to Tokoname port.
Tokoname-ware was initially pottery used mainly for religious purposes, such as vases for storing Buddhist sutra scrolls.
During the late Heian period (late 12th century), cremation began to become popular, and as a result, Tokoname funeral urns came into production.
At first, they were very large, but as the years of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) passed, the urns began to be made smaller and smaller in size. However, the quantity of urns greatly increased; this was mainly due to the rising popularity of cremation. In the 14th and 15th century, the production of religious items slowly decreased as the demand for items used in everyday household life increased. As a result, Tokoname-ware began to be sold for profit.
One of Tokoname’s most famous items, the red clay teapot, was created in the 19th century for the first time. This pot is now being mass-produced, along with many other items made to meet the needs of modern lifestyles, such as tableware, tea cups, pipes, flower pots, and what are considered by many to be the best bonsai pots in the world.
The items I chose were all based on my needs as well as my eye for what works for me, my style.
Who knew that the pieces I chose were such treasures.
They have added to the enjoyment of my tea experience, and for certain, this will continue for years to come.
Thanks for reading
Info on this post came from several internet resources:
*”Quality Japanese Ceramic Pots | Herons Bonsai.” http://www.herons.co.uk/Bonsai-Pots/Ceramic-Pots-/Japanese-Tokoname-Ceramic-. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016 <http://www.herons.co.uk/Bonsai-Pots/Ceramic-Pots-/Japanese-Tokoname-Ceramic-Pots>.
*Info and photo of Taisuke Siraiwa from http://galleryjapan.com/locale/en_US/artist/43/
*Info and photo of Toju (Sugie Hirotaka)
*Info and photo of Hakusan Katayama III