The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
As Japan’s tea ceremony (chado or chanoyu) developed through the 16th century, many of the bowls used by tea masters were utilitarian Korean rice bowls, which were often imperfect, irregular in form, unglazed, and had a rough and bumpy surface. Their unrefined beauty and simplicity acquired an aesthetic importance as the concept of wabi came to define the spirit of chanoyu, and the role of such bowls has continued to the present day. This stoneware tea bowl from the 17th century is an example of stoneware pieces that were developed to focus more on aesthetic considerations and to give a more regular, refined shape and surface. Named Akebono (Dawn) for its pale color, it once belonged to Mujin Sosa (1901–1979) 13th master of the Omote Senke School of Tea.
The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
This small pot with side handle and an enameled design over porcelain was made circa 1870 for the brewing of sencha. Such pots were used both as kettles and steeping pots, and the brewed tea was drunk from porcelain tea bowls decorated with simple designs in underglaze blue on white. The method of manufacturing sencha by steaming, rolling, and drying the fresh leaves was invented in Japan by Soen Nagatani in 1740. In 1835, gyokuro was first made by shading the bushes before harvesting the leaf, and the higher grade, sweeter, more umami green tea became more widely used for senchado, “the way of sencha” ceremony.

A revival of interest took place in the late 12th century when the monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China, and in 1211 published the Kissa Yojoki (An Account of Drinking Tea and Preserving Life), which extolled tea’s health benefits. The tea Eisai introduced was the new type of tea that was by then fashionable in China—the loose dried green leaves were ground to a very fine powder, whisked into hot water with a bamboo brush, and drunk from imported Chinese “hare’s fur” tea bowls, with their patterns resembling animal fur streaked through the dark brown-black glaze. The love of all things Chinese continued, and the Buddhist priests and members of the ruling classes who practiced the Chinese-style tea ritual also acquired collections of Chinese tea utensils with which to prepare and serve the tea. Their devotion to tea was very formal and serious and completely founded on Chinese ideas. But as the Samurai warrior class gained political power towards the end of the 12th century and established a military government (which controlled Japan until the second half of the 19th century), they began to drink tea less for its rituals and Chinese philosophy and more because they simply liked the taste.

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