The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan

The Chitra Collection: Tea Wares of Japan
(Above) This four-piece tea set from circa 1880 with ivory handles was carved to look like bamboo, and decorated with multimetal and shakudo work. Shakudo is an alloy of gold and copper, which can be treated to give an indigo/black finish that resembles lacquer or left untreated to appear as bronze. As the export market grew in the last part of the 19th century, Japonism, an enthusiasm and admiration for Japanese arts and crafts such as Shakudo and enameling, had a profound effect on Western design.

While, in the 16th century, the majority of Japanese became practitioners of the chanoyu tea ceremony, using whisked matcha, some Sinophile Japanese refused to accept the rejection of Chinese ideas, practices, and tea utensils, and developed a sencha tea ceremony that still used Chinese tea wares. This alternative tea ritual, Senchado, was introduced in the 17th century, was made more popular in the 18th century by the monk Baisao, and found favor amongst the intellectuals as a protest against the military regime of the Shoguns, against the new religion of Zen Buddhism, and as a demonstration of adherence to the old religions of Confucianism and Taoism. The majority of utensils were made in Kyoto and were adapted from the original Chinese style. From 1860 to 1900, senchado events were often used also to display Chinese arts, and by 1868, sencha aficionados included art dealers, businessmen, and politicians. By the early 19th century, the sencha ceremony had spread into the urban population and was followed by ordinary people who simply liked the Chinese style of brewing and drinking tea.

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