The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
This late 17th-century teapot is from the Kakiemon kiln in the town of Arita, Kyushu. The kiln was founded in 1670 and specialized in fine white porcelain decorated quite sparsely in translucent overglaze enamels in yellow, soft coral red, blue, and turquoise. Sakaido Kakiemon is said to have learned the art of enameling from a Chinese potter in Nagasaki. The Kakeimon style of enameling was often copied by Bow, Crown Derby, and Chelsea potteries in England; Delft in Holland; Meissen in Germany; Chantilly in France; and in China, once the factories started production again in 1684 after the disruption of the mid-17th century.
The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
This tiny globular porcelain teapot decorated with overglaze enamels was made at the Arita kilns sometime between 1688 and 1704. The design is of peonies and prunus flowers, popular motifs often used on Kakiemon-style pots. The enameling process involved painting the chosen decoration onto the glazed surface and returning the pot to the kiln for a second firing. Enameling was being used in Arita long before the export trade started, and the earliest enameled wares were unrefined imitations of Chinese patterns used on kraak export wares, named after the Carrack ships that carried them.

From the end of the 8th century A.D., Japan was heavily influenced by Chinese philosophy, religion, system of government, culture, and art. Buddhist monks travelled back and forth between the two countries to gain knowledge and understanding and to acquire religious manuscripts, ceramics, paintings, and sculptures. Of course, they also learned about tea. Some historians say that tea was first drunk in Japan when Emperor Shomu served tea to a hundred priests at a religious gathering in A.D. 729. Others believe that it was in the early 9th century A.D. that the monks Saicho, Kukai, and Eichu brought tea back from China. When Kukai returned home, he told Emperor Saga that while in China, he had studied chanoyu (hot water for tea). The tea introduced by the monks was compressed cake tea, prepared for drinking by being pounded to a powder, sieved, whisked into hot water, and served with salt. In A.D. 814, the tea-loving Emperor Saga wrote, “The whisper of the pines cools the day’s heat. One never tires of writing poetry and the pleasing fragrance of pounding tea.” Saga is said to have ordered the cultivation of tea, but the beverage did not become popular at this time and was drunk only as a medicinal brew.

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