Sunday, November 21, 2010

The "Powdery Matsudaira" Revisited

(Click on Images to enlarge.  Use back arrow to return to post.)
I am sure that you are wondering why I would 'revisit' a chawan like the "Powdery Matsudaira".  As my subtitle, "An Adventure Toward Insight and Clarity", suggests; this blog is an adventure.  In addition, my first sentence on my introduction to this blog is, "I begin this blog knowing I have a profound lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject of Tea bowls."
In my earlier post on "Powdery Matsudaira" I wrote:
To many Tea ware artist and connoisseurs, the “Powdery” Matsudaira, like the Kizaemon, embodies the ‘essence of tea’.  From the moment it was formed on a humble wheel, to the quick dipping into slip ‘tum bung’ that left an accidental bare mark revealing the clay body - in a “tealeaf-like” pattern, to the accidental drip across that mark made when the potter lifted the bowl to keep the excess slip on the bowl, this was destined to be a great bowl.  Tiny specks of natural stone peeked through the slip at the peak of the firing.  This slip, like that on many old tum bung buncheong pieces, was more than strictly a “slip”.  It was a slip glaze fusing slightly and sealing the body.  More than likely it was also ‘single fired’, without the benefit of bisque firing.  This chawan is beautiful, capturing many moments of the forming, ‘glazing’ and firing process.  The inner and outer powers have become one in this amazing chawan.
I have been thinking about this bowl lately because I have been doing some dipped slip buncheong tea cups and tea bowls for my own work.  This is not something new for me but rather something I return to from time to time just to mix things up a little and try to keep myself fresh.
One of the things that has always bothered me about the "Powdery Matsudaira" is it has never really had the nuance characteristics of a slip.  That is why in my original post I said it was a "slip glaze".  The title of the piece uses the word "powdery" suggesting a slip was used.  The word 'bun' in 'buncheong' essentually means 'powder'.  But in creating buncheong slip ware, usually a clear glaze is placed over the slip causing the dark exposed clay to have a shine.   In nearly every book or writing on the "Powdery Matsudaira", it is categorized as a slip glazed or buncheong bowl.  Every Korean tea bowl artist who copies it uses slip with a clear glaze over it.  I wrote that it was a "slip glaze" because it didn't have the same 'feel' as other buncheong pieces that have clear glazes over them.
Recently, I was staying with our friend, the potter Park Jong Il, and his family in the mountains outside of Gyeongju, Korea.  One evening, we were just talking about pottery when I asked him if he thought the "Powdery Matsudaira" used a slip glaze?  It is a question that has bothered me for sometime.  His immediate reply was, "No, just a slip".  I responded,  "If it was just a slip why is there no shine on the dark portion of the bowl and why does it look more like a glaze?"  "Let's see."  Jong Il said.  With that statement he went to his books and pulled out a very large book in Japanese on tea bowls.  It was a remarkable book filled with amazing work and I hope to someday obtain a copy.  After searching for a few moments he exclaimed, "You're right!  It is a glaze."  Now I was at his side looking at a grouping of very large photos of the "Powdery Matsudaira" showing this bowl in clear detail like I had never seen it before.  It showed the bowl in many positions, foot, lip the bare pattern, everything.  But I was wrong, it was not a "slip glaze" it was glazed with a white porcelain glaze "paekcha" that was used like one would apply a slip!  Amazing!
What we read, clearly effects what we see.  What we think we know, based on years of experience and reading, can still perpetuate misinformation as readily as it can provide the truth.
I apologize for my earlier post on the "Powdery Matsudaira" suggesting that a 'slip glaze' was used.  But I am happy to provide this clarification as we move toward even more insight and clarity.
PS: I'm sorry I do not have an image of the "Powdery Matsudaira" from that large Japanese book nor would I have permission to post it if I did.  I do have permission to post the above photo and have inserted it twice as large as before.  Click on it to see the enlarged view and use the 'back' arrow to return to this blog.  Thanks for following us.

Added to the post:  12/5/2011
Because of the questions about this bowl, I decided to use Photoshop in an attempt to get a little closer to the images I saw in the Japanese book.  The first image is the traditional image found in many publications.  It appears 'yellowed' by age.  The second image, altered by photoshop by removing some of the 'yellow', is much closer to the images I saw in the book mentioned above.  One may argue that the 'original' image should not be altered.  From seeing the new book, that 'original' image doesn't reflect the true nature of this piece.  In any case this is just a blog, not my doctorial dissertation on this bowl.  I'm simply attempting to present a clear and honest portrayal of the bowl as I now know it. 

      The original commonly used photo of The "Powdery Matsudaira".  

Compare the above photo to the next photo.

 The whiter image of the "Powdery Matsudaira" 

The above image is much closer to the images I saw in the teabowl book.

Comparing the color change I made

My apologies if this attempt at clarification is beginning to add confusion.
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Because I had a computer glitz, the following was added 11/24/2011
I am perplexed.  I have received a couple of comments and can't return a comment myself.  For some reason neither of my computers will allow me to comment on my own blogs.  So, I'll post a comment here until that can be corrected.  
Thanks for your comments.
It was impossible to mistake either the photos or the text found in this Japanese chawan book.  I had never before seen photos of the "Powdery Matsudaira" or any of the other tea bowls like the ones in this book.  Each photo was up close and included several photos of every chawan taken in good light with great detail.  In addition the text clearly states, in Japanese translated by Jong Il, that this bowl we know as the  "Powdery Matsudaira" was glazed with a Korean porcelain glaze.  It was neither a slip glaze, as I wrote originally, nor was it covered with a slip in any way.  It was simply glazed with a porcelain glaze.  This is particularly interesting to me because this bowl has been one of the standards for the buncheong process of dipping one's bowl in slip.  We had assumed that slip was used.  Books, articles and blog posts like my earlier one perpetuate that myth.  For my part, I'm sorry.  It didn't look right from the one photo I had.  As much as I want that bowl to be dipped into slip, as much as nearly everyone thought it had been dipped into slip, as much as it looks like old slip with the chipping on the lip and foot in the above photo, it is not slip.  If I'm able to obtain my own copy of that book I'll ask for permission to post some of the better photos here.  In the meantime, the additional highly detailed photos that I saw and text in that book answered my questions.  I hope I have answered yours.         


Friday, May 28, 2010

Han Dynasty Tea Bowl

May 16th was the night of the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul so we planned our stay so that we would be in Seoul that night to enjoy it.  For sheer pageantry the events surrounding the Lotus Lantern Festival are probably unsurpassed in Korea.   A hundred thousand or more Buddhists from many countries come together to celebrate the coming of Buddha’s birthday by parading magnificent lanterns through the streets of Seoul.  (click images to enlarge)

But we would not witness the 2010 Lotus Lantern Festival.  We were otherwise engaged in a more exciting experience.

On our recent trip to Korea, to participate in the Mungyeong Chassabal Festival we stayed a little longer to tour Gangjin, Jirisan, Gyeongju and Seoul.  Gangjin and Jirisan are rich in their tea and tea histories and I’ll eventually be posting some of what we found about tea and tea history on my Morning Crane Tea blog.  Instead, for my first post since returning home, I think I should begin with something very early.  
It was in Jirisan that my friend Park Jong-Il introduced us to his tea teacher Kim Sung Tae.  Master Kim Sung Tae was leading a group of tea masters, potters and simply interested followers on an excursion that included making green and ddokcha teas the Chinese way.  Some of that experience will also eventually be found on my tea blog.  But more important, for this blog, Kim Sung Tae, is also a connoisseur of tea ware.  During his more than 300 visits to China in the last ten years he studied many of the ancient ways of making and preparing tea, and collected both Chinese tea and Chinese tea ware. In fact his knowledge and understanding of Chinese tea and Chinese tea ware is probably unsurpassed in Korea.  With more than 20,000 tea ware pieces, I can’t imagine any other collector (including major museums in Korea) that would have in their collection more (or a greater variety of) Chinese tea ware than Master Kim Sung Tae.  Who would have thought that we would find so much about Chinese tea in Korea?
For most of us in the Western world, when we think of teabowls, our minds think of Japan.  There are international exhibits where Western ceramic artists try to show how close they have come to expressing the qualities found in Japanese tea bowls.  In the process little thought is given to either China or Korea.  In reality, compared to China and Korea, Japan is a latecomer to tea and tea bowls.  Both China and Korea had teabowls, dawan or chawan hundreds of years before Japan and Japan owes much gratitude to both countries.  As I said in another post, one scholar said that removing Korea’s influence alone from Japan’s ceramics would be like removing all African Americans from the Jazz Hall of Fame.  If you also then removed China’s influence from Japan’s ceramics, very little if anything would be left.
There is an old saying, “Begin at the beginning.”  But who can really say what bowl the Chinese Emperor Shennong drank from in 2737 BCE when an errant tealeaf fell into his cup of hot water (or do you prefer another story of the beginning of tea). 

There was nothing errant about the glazing, decorating and firing of this Chinese tea bowl that reportedly dates as early as 150 BCE.  That puts this glazed bowl back to the early Western Han period (206 BCE-9 CE).  
I knew that an applied ash glaze was used in China quite early but seeing this ash glazed bowl in person was a shock.  Frankly I have not studied Chinese tea ware much - as most of my efforts have been focused on Korea and Japan.  I knew that Korea’s Three  Kingdom Period (57 BCE – 618 CE) had kilns that would reach the melting temperature of ash but seeing this simple Chinese ash glazed bowl - that Master Kim Sung Tae swears was most likely made for tea - still alive - blows my mind. 
By ‘alive’ I mean you can still feel the power of the potter in this piece.  The bowl is approximately 12 cm wide and 6 cm high; a perfect size for tea even today.  It fits the hand beautifully.  Obviously it was thrown on the wheel then decorated with a simple probably wooden rolling stamp that the potter in his haste inadvertently also touched to the rim of the bowl.  The clay for this bowl was not fully prepared.  A broken air pocket can be easily seen.  The ash glaze, most likely simply composed of ashes, was thinned with water then the bowl simply held and quickly dipped into the glaze.  The fingers, inside the bowl, left their mark forever.

In my mind I sat with this potter watching as he turned the heavy wheel, pulling it toward him with his right hand so that the wheel turned clockwise.*(see below)
This bowl was one of many that day, each formed alone from individual pieces of clay.  (It would probably be years later when many similar bowls would be formed from a single mound of clay.)  The rolled decoration was applied immediately, probably with a wooden wheel stamp that was held loosely attached to the end of a stick in one of several ways and rolled around the bowl before it was trimmed and then lifted from the wheel.**  But on this day there were many bowls formed then set aside to stiffen (not dry) and glazed. 
Grasped with two fingers on the inside, the bowl was quickly dipped in a simple thin glaze composed of ash and water.  As the freshly glazed bowl sat drying, at one point the potter picked the still wet bowl up again, moving it to make room for another bowl.  Thus four fingerprints are seen inside the bowl. 
The practice of glazing stiff but not fully dry ware continues for common utilitarian ware in Asia today.  Bisque firing before glazing came much later when glazing practices became more sophisticated. 
After sitting a few days to dry, the bowl was placed with many other items into a long slopping kiln and was fired with wood in a mostly oxidizing flame.  The slope helped the kiln to be very efficient as it reached nearly white heat – hot enough to melt the ash glaze. 
More than 2000 years later this simple tea bowl is still 'alive' and possesses many of the natural “touched by the potter” characteristics greatly desired by chawan connoisseurs today.  But this tea bowl was not used for a “tea ceremony”.  It was used to drink tea as a medicine – and most likely not a medicine to cure illness but to prevent illnesses from occurring.  Tea was then, and is today, perfect for Chinese medicine that focuses on the prevention of health problems, as much as rehabilitation, and turns to tea and other herbs for this purpose.

*Koreans and Europeans would add a flywheel to their potter’s wheel that allowed them to be kicked with the right foot away from the potter or ‘counterclockwise’.  Both directions are ‘right handed’, actually one is right handed the other right footed but in any case we should not refer to either direction as ‘left handed’.  They are simply directions for working with the wheel spinning in the direction most often used in ones country.  In the case of Korea the direction changes often, sometimes even with the same potter, depending on the wheel and whether or not they want their strongest hand inside or outside the vessel.  In Korean onggi the wheel is pulled with the left foot in a counter clockwise direction.  This is an adaptation developed from an ancient hand building method.
**There are a couple of ways the wooden rolling stamp may have been applied while the pot was still on the wheel.  Both ways involve a wheel shaped wooden stamp with the decoration carved in (similar to treads on a tire).  The center of the wheel has a hole.  There are two methods, that I have seen used in Asia, used to hold the wheel.  The first is a simple stick with a nail on its end.  The wheel sits on the nail.  The second involves a "Y" shaped stick similar to a slingshot.   The rolling stamp is placed between the two prongs of the "Y" also held by a nail or wooden dowel.  
Ask about our Korean ceramic workshops.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Red Shino Chawan T 575

Red Shino T 575 
5.25” x 2.5”   13.3 cm x 6.4 cm

When I created this blog, my intent was to look at chawan by other artists but for some reason one of my chawan keeps popping up.  First it was a photo I found while cleaning, then it popped up on my computer seemingly out of nowhere.  I guess it is trying to get noticed.   You may or may not like it.  It really doesn’t fall into the wabi category.  In some ways it is too pretty – like a woman with a little too much makeup.  But never the less I’m attracted to it.  Also don’t get too excited if you do like it.  It sold about 5-6 years ago and I haven’t been able to get this effect again.  My clay body ingredients have changed and some of the glaze ingredients are also mined a little deeper in the mine.  That or something else is keeping me from repeating this glaze effect – so in keeping with my philosophy, I moved on, accepting the “the way of Tariki” or ‘outer forces’ (in Japanese).  I wish I knew the equivalent of that term in Korean.  There are other Korean philosophical positions that we’ll discuss some other time.
At one time I was able to get this effect on a lot of tea bowls.  This one in white is now in an important collection.

I also used it on vases . . .

and on other forms in red.

You might actually like the above examples better than the teabowl that has been haunting me. 

But this bowl in spite of its pretty look has a more Korean form and feel.

When one makes a lot of tea bowls many of them just seem to pass one like waves in the night.  I can recognize them as mine if I see them again but can’t remember them specifically or as being special.  Over the years there are a few that somehow stand out as being memorable.  

Memorable doesn’t necessarily mean they are really good but simply that for some reason they stick in my mind.  Such is the case with Red Shino T575. 
There are many different kinds of shino colors - red, white, gray, black, rat etc.  There are also many shino glaze formulas, possibly hundreds or even thousands, slightly altered with more or less the same ingredients in varying amounts.  The feldspars change, the percentage of soda ash varies from a little to a lot, or a little red art clay or even tin is added.  Under various circumstances the results of the same glaze fired in the same way in the same kiln can give a variety of results.  With different clay bodies the variety is increased.  One might be firing wood or gas or possibly even electric (although I never personally fired shino in an electric kiln).  The heat source adds other dimensions.  The maturing temperature might be from cone 7 to 15.  Somewhere in there you should find a glaze result that you want to think about a little more.  As I said, for me one of those chawan is Red Shino T575.

In addition to the obvious glaze effect, this bowl just seems to feel right in the hand.  It is relaxed and natural in form.  I think I have been looking at too many bowls by other potters that are a little tighter than mine.

In recent years I have been going to Korea often and have been studying tea bowls by ‘the masters’.  Some of them throw with a little more precision than me.  I find myself getting a little tighter attempting to get some ‘classic’ results but in the process. I’m getting further and further away from me
I just unloaded a kiln and threw away something like 30 of 40 bowls and I wasn’t excited about the remaining ten.  So I guess I’m saying to myself that after 50+ years of this I should get back to me and stop trying to please someone else’s chawan spirits.  Mine get a little angry or jealous when I do that and let’s me know it pretty quickly. 
I still have a hard time making really predictable work using tried and true glazes that always come out the same.  I did that for a while when I worked in porcelain, but I like the mystery of ‘the Tariki’ and am most excited and pleased when my chawan spirits smile on me.  
Of course this is no way to make a good living.  Many customers like predictability so that if they break one of your chawan they can come back and buy another one just like it.  But, for me, that is not a chawan.  It might be a bowl but it is not a chawan.  A chawan must have within it something stirring and a life that is a little different than others even its twin if one exists. 
Have you noticed?  I’m having difficult time writing about or analyzing my own work – even when I share the work with ‘the Teriki’.
So this lopsided, loosely thrown ‘red’ will just have to wait until someone else takes an analytical crack at it.  It has done its job of getting me back to me.
Influence yourself.
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PS: This bowl was purchased by a major collection in Korea. So it has a good home.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Death of Sen Rikyu and the Birth of a Teabowl

In a single moment he was dead, a victim of seppuku.  Nothing could have prevented it; not the pleadings of Hideyoshi’s wife and daughter, not the intercession of samurai generals and Tea masters alike – nothing.
In preparation for this post I Googled “Sen Rikyu” and found 133,000 entries.  What more can be said? I am certainly not an expert on Sen Rikyu, but because he is near the heart of some of those aspects of Tea that interest me most. I have been reading about him and Toyotomi Hideyoshi for many years. To me, the ramifications that followed the death of Sen no Rikyu and their connection to Korea make that instant a key moment in teabowl history.
It is also interesting that of all the things written about Sen no Rikyu, one thing seems to puzzle writers most. Why did Toyotomi Hideyoshi command Sen Rikyu, this great man of Tea, to commit ritual suicide?  In 1989, Japan made a movie to explore this question.  The movie, Sen No Rikyu: The Death of a Tea Master, was highly rated but the question remains. (The movie is available on the web for a price.)
On the 28th day of the 2nd month of 1591 at his residence in Jurakudai, the palace he had helped to build, Sen no Rikyu wrote the following poem, raised his sword and carried out the command.
A life of seventy years,
strength spent to the very last.
With this my jeweled sword,
I kill both patriarchs and buddhas.
I yet carry one article I had gained,
the long sword and now at this moment
I hurl it to the heavens
A Biography of Sen Rikyu, Murai

There are other dissimilar translations.  Two follow:
Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
Through Buddha
And through Daruma alike
Thou hast cleft thy way.
Japanese Tea Ceremony. net

I raise the sword,
This sword of mine,
Long in my possession
The time is come at last.
Skyward I throw it up!
translation: Suzuki Dasetsu 

A full ceremonial seppuku always has a death poem. (jisei no ku 辞世の句).  That there are at least three different translations of Sen no Rikyu’s death poem underscores the confusion surrounding his death.
Many have speculated as to why Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikyu to commit seppuku (切腹).  You may also be wondering why a blog on teabowls, such as this, would deal with such an issue.
Why did I, on this April day 2010, decide to address this morbid issue and post this blog on Sen Rikyu?  I certainly do not enjoy morose thoughts.
I chose Sen no Rikyu because, particularly in the Western world, we cannot think about Teabowls without thinking about the contributions of Sen Rikyu.  April is the month of Sen Rikyu’s death – April 21, 1591.  Of course that may be the Chinese calendar.
The death of Sen no Rikyu has intrigued me for years, not because I enjoyed the topic, but because, in my mind, seeking the answer to the question, “Why?” and the aftermath of the deed, are keys to understanding the influence of Korea on Japanese teabowls and indeed Japanese ceramics in general.
So why did the most powerful man in Japan the great Taiko ask his beloved tea master to commit seppuku?
There are many possible reasons. I come to the following possibilities because they have been “collecting” over the years from readings, and discussions with Zen scholars of Japanese history and other learned people.

From: Japan's Hidden History: Korean Impact on Japanese Culture, 
Jon Carter and Alan Covell
Was it because a statue of Sen no Rikyu had been placed on the second floor of an important building above Hideyoshi’s statue that was on the first floor?  Hideyoshi became so enraged that he ordered that building burned to the ground only for it to be saved by the suggestion that Sen Rikyu’s stature be removed instead.  To burn it would have enraged too many others.  Some think it was because Sen no Rikyu refused Hideyoshi’s request to take Rikyu’s daughter, the beautiful Lady Ogin, as a concubine.  Perhaps it was because Lady Ogin had an unrequited love for Lord Ukon, who angered Hideyoshi by becoming a Christian convert. The movie Sen No Rikyu: The Death of a Tea Master suggests this as a possible answer.  Hideyoshi, being Buddhist, reportedly did not like many Christians. However, after Sen Rikyu’s death he chose Furuta Oribe to be his tea master.  Oribe was a Christian.
Sen no Rikyu strongly disapproved of Hideyoshi’s desire to invade Korea and China.  Rikyu argued vigorously against this war and died a year before the invasion.  Was that the reason?
Although Toyotomi Hideyoshi had been named Taiko – Absolute Ruler in the Emperor’s name - and thus achieved unparalleled military power throughout Japan, he had always suffered because of his personal physical appearance.   In addition Hideyoshi could never fully deny his own humble beginnings. Not being of noble birth, Hideyoshi could never be what he truly wanted – to be Shogun.  Short and thin, Hideyoshi's sunken features were likened to that of a monkey.  Oda Nobunaga, a great warrior, but less than tactful man (for whom Sen no Rikyu was tea master before Hideyoshi), often called Toyotomi little Saru (monkey) and the 'bald rat'. That would have surely bothered Hideyoshi.  Was it simply because Hideyoshi was not born to a wealthy family and loved the ornate while Sen no Rikyu preferred the humble and simple?  There is the rumor that some Japanese scholars say is true that Hideyoshi had syphilis of the brain and was slowly going insane. You may not read the latter reason in many accounts, certainly not Japanese ones, but a leading unbiased Japanese scholar told me this personally. If this was true any or all of the above theories could be true.

Clearly, Hideyoshi had become jealous of his once beloved advisor and confidant. After all Hideyoshi was Taiko. Sen no Rikyu was merely a Tea master. Hideyoshi should receive all the accolades, love and praise.
Sen no Rikyu by contrast was beloved by all who knew him, at peace with himself, had achieved his life goals and was a true man of Zen and of Zen Tea. Even with great power, how can you really compete with that?  Are these all not reasons for Hideyoshi, particularly if he was going insane, to command Sen no Rikyu to commit seppuku?
Ironically it took place at Jurakudai – the Palace of Pleasure that Sen no Rikyu helped to build.  There was no pleasure in the palace that day – not even for Hideyoshi.  He regretted his command.
As stated earlier, I begin to write about the great tea master Sen no Rikyu at the end of his life because, frankly, so much has already been written about Sen no Rikyu that there is little to add.  Knowledge of how he died helps to clarify for me a great deal in the history of tea bowls.  But unfortunately much remains unclear.
I will go back in history a few years in Sen Rikyu’s life and tell a story that I have also researched for many years.  You may already know some or even this entire story or you may have never heard it.  In any case it demands retelling – even if it too will remain confusing.
Allow me to set the stage. For part of this story Oda Nobunaga is alive and Sen no Rikyu is his tea master.  I have already mentioned that after the death of Oda Nobunaga, under whom Sen no Rikyu was tea master, Sen no Rikyu became tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  In 1586 Hideyoshi began construction of Jurakudai - the Palace of Pleasure.  As part of the building process Hideyoshi asked Sen no Rikyu to purchase roof tiles for the palace.
To do this, Sen no Rikyu visited the family of his old friends Ameya the rooftile maker and potter and Teirin, Ameya’s wife, who worked at his side. Sen no Rikyu had met them earlier when he was tea master for Oda Nobunage and had brought some attention to their work.  Ameya, who had been called Sokei or Masakichi, was a Korean who immigrated to Japan around 1520 and married Teirin.  On Sokei’s (Ameya’s) death (about 1560), Teirin became a nun and changed her style of work to Ama-yaki or nun’s ware. Chojiro and Jokei, their two sons, worked with her.  Chojiro was already a potter and rooftile maker of some renown.
One account says that Sen no Rikyu had actually given Sokei and Teirin his old family name “Tanaka” after Rikyu had changed his name to “Sen”.  Another account says that Rikyu’s family name “Tanaka” was given to the two sons. In any case there was a close relationship between Sen no Rikyu and Chojiro.
The name Sen, that Rikyu adopted, came from his grandfather Sen-Ami. Sen-Ami was also a Korean immigrant married to a Japanese lady. This made Sen no Rikyu ¼ Korean. Sen-Ami, Rikyu’s grandfather, was an aesthete working for Ashikaga Yoshimasa a local warlord. Various scholars speculate that some of the more natural teachings of Sen Rikyu’s aesthetics came from his Korean grandfather since they are almost identical to many earlier Korean aesthetic principals.
You may know that Sen no Rikyu commissioned Chojiro to make teabowls.  Formed by hand with a simple glaze, these bowls had a natural feel and suited wabi-cha well.  For many years these bowls were known as ima-yaki “now ware” since they were pulled from the kiln immediately after the glaze matured.  Some even referred to these teabowls as Hasami-yaki or (tongs ware) since tongs were used in the firing process. This ware was so loved by the palace and by Hideyoshi that Chojiro’s bowls could not be sold to the general public.
After Chojiro’s death in 1589, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was so saddened and moved that he presented the brother Jokei with a seal on which was the word RAKU meaning “pleasure”.  The word was derived from the name of the palace Jurakudai. The same place where Rikyu was ordered to commit seppuku. This is the same palace for which Sen no Rikyu bought roof tiles from Chojiro.
I wonder if Sen no Rikyu knew that Hideyoshi would have the roof tiles covered with gold leaf?  Sen no Rikyu and Hideyoshi often had different aesthetic tastes - Hideyoshi more extravagant and Rikyu more humble.
The Tanaka family was so touched by the gift of this RAKU seal from the great Taiko that they changed their family name to Raku. That family became the Raku family dynasty that continues today in Kyoto, Japan. There they continue to produce Raku teabowls after fifteen generations.


From The World of Korean Ceramics, Jon and Alan Covell
This Raku bowl is by Chojiro.  Since none of Chojiro’s bowls were available for purchase by the public. It is highly likely that Sen no Rikyu used this bowl perhaps while serving Tea to Hideyoshi. The bowl is a great example of Chojiro’s work and the aesthetics of Sen Rikyu’s wabi-cha. Formed by hand and glazed with a simple transparent glaze there is a softness to the feel of this and all Raku bowls that suits them well to Tea.
Since not all of Chojiro’s red bowls have smoke marking, it is presumed that such markings may have initially occurred accidentally after the bowl was withdrawn from the kiln, while the glaze was still molten, and placed on some wood or brush that happened to be on the ground nearby. To quote from the Raku Family web site:
The form achieved in his tea bowls is a manifestation of spirituality, reflecting most directly the ideals of wabi advocated by Sen no Rikyu as much as the philosophy of Zen, Buddhism and Taoism. Chojiro, through his negation of movement, decoration and variation of form, went beyond the boundaries of individualistic expression and elevated the teabowl into a spiritual abstraction and an intensified presence.
Sen Rikyu, in life, helped to give birth to the humble tea bowls we know today as Raku.
On Sen Rikyu’s death, no one remained to argue with Hideyoshi against the invasion of Korea and the devastating Imjin War (Bunroku no eki). That war led to the death of approximately 3,000,000 people in Korea. Far more lives were lost than in any modern war. The stories of that war are horrific beyond comprehension. The war led to the dislocation of somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 people of all types, men, women, children, scholars, poets and craftspeople of all types including an estimated 2000 potters who set up studios for many warlords in Japan. In the process the Korean potters founded numerous pottery villages. Many of those villages remain in Japan today. In a strange twist of fate it is possible to argue that had Sen no Rikyu not died and had been able to persuade Hideyoshi to not attempt to conquer Korea and China the face of both Korean and Japanese ceramics and specifically tea bowls, would be vastly different today.
Originally I was going to post this on April 1st but decided to postpone it a few days because of the odd significance of that day in the USA – perhaps beyond.  I decided to look once more at the official Raku Family website and discovered that they, on April 1, 2010, had drastically changed their web site from what it had been for many years.  It was a joke on me.  Even much of the information had changed.  It is not my intent to disrespect those who choose the content of the official Raku Family website.  After considerable thought and conscious searching, I decided to present on my post the information I have been collecting on this story for many years. It comes from several sources that have also been doing research on the subject. 
Notably one source is now on line in the 1901 book Japan Its History Arts and Literature Vol VIII Keramic Art by Captain F. Brinkley.  Much but not all of his information is confirmed by other authors. Please also compare his Raku family linage on page 36 Japan History with the official Raku site.
If you go to the new Raku Family website, you will not learn that they have any Korean roots. Rather, they report that their roots are part Chinese and discuss evidence to prove it. For many years it has been the practice for Japanese people to deny the influence of Korea on their culture and/or that they might be themselves part Korean. One scholar told me that this practice is like denying the influence of African Americans on Jazz, particularly in the area of ceramics.

Was Chojiro part Korean or part Chinese? Were Chojiro and Jokei actually brothers? Did Sen no Rikyu give his family name Tanaka to Ameya or to Chojiro or not at all?  (Just a few years ago Koreans who lived in Japan and did not change their name to a Japanese name could not own property – even if their family had lived in Japan for centuries.)  In the final analysis, none of the facts of my post really matter. What we can agree on is the importance of the relationship of Sen no Rikyu to Chjiro and Jokei and the birth of a tea bowl that became Raku.
This is simply a blog. It is not a doctorial dissertation nor is it a book, both of which should require much more documentation. It was originally written to help clarify some things in my own mind about Sen Rikyu’s death and the impact on Korean and Japanese tea bowls – not to confuse the history of Raku.  After all the real purpose of this blog is simply to think about and enjoy some teabowls.
A Note:
The term “Raku” should not be confused with the Western ware inspired by Raku and developed principally by Paul Soldner that we know as “raku”.  After watching Paul Soldner demonstrate his process, the great teabowl master Raku Kakunyu XIV spoke with Soldner and said , “It is an interesting process but it is not Raku.  I am Raku.”   This story came directly from Paul.
An Addendum Bowl:
While the above Chojiro Raku teabowl is truly a great one. it is not the the bowl that first inspired me to think about writing about Sen Rikyu.  That bowl was a Korean  Goryeo Dynasty celadon bowl that I did not include in my last post.  This celadon bowl was officially documented as having been used by Sen Rikyu.  Japan keeps very extensive records on official tea ceremonies.  Reportedly Korean bowls were used the majority of the time. 

From The World of Korean Ceramics, Jon and Alan Covell
Known as the Naniwazutsu, this celadon bowl is very different from those on my celadon teabowl post. First it is not an ‘open’ form but is upright.  Celadon was made throughout Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty and although many of the “finest” celadon came from Gangjin it is immediately clear from the crackled glaze that this piece does not come from Gangjin.  This bowl is too unrefined.
That is how it should be for a Sen no Rikyu bowl. Although Goryeo celadon is known for its sophistication.  There is something about this Goryeo bowl that remains humble. Is it the slightly pock marked surface with its partially under-reduced tea stained crazed glaze or the innocently carved and inlaid ‘sang hwa mun‘ cranes, ironic symbols for long life - while Sen Rikyu’s life was shortened?  Is it the simple stamped chrysanthemum a symbol for cheer and optimism – and an object for meditation?  Or is it the off-center form that we know fits the hand perfectly?
The Naniwazutsu feels like a bowl that is for quiet personal contemplation and meditation, not a bowl to be shared.  I wonder if Sen no Rikyu used it in that way?
It is also one of those rare chawan that seems like a cross between a chawan (teabowl) and yunomi (watercup) in Japanese.  Many Western potters don’t seem to understand or ignore the difference. That is a topic for another post.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post. Your comments and suggestions are encouraged and welcome.

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It is now October 2013 and I have ‘refreshed’ this post for easier viewing without changing the content. 
I you feel you gained something from reading this post, please follow this blog.  You never know when I might attempt to tackle another interesting subject. 
Of all of my posts on all of my various blogs related to tea, teaware and Korean ceramics, this post has been viewed the most.  I was expecting comments, even arguments but as you can see – nothing. 
I hope viewers continue to visit and begin to comment.
In 2016, I added a thought to this post.  Of more importance, I launched my website This "link" will take you there.  
If you are a lover of tea or Korean teaware please take a look at what we have to offer and don't forget our information post on tea.
Special thanks to Alan Covell for permission to post the photos from his books and the insights those books have been giving me.  Dr. Jon Carter Covell, Alan's mother was a close friend. We miss her insights into Japanese and Korean culture greatly.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Celadon Tea Bowls: A Simple Bowl

It is one of history’s incongruities that what have become the greatest teabowls in history, like the Kizaemon Ido and the “Powdery” Matsudaira, were created during Korea’s Joseon (or Choson) Dynasty (1392-1910) when the use of tea was in decline in Korea.
The greatest use of tea in Korea took place earlier during the Goryeo (or Koryo) Dynasty (918-1392) when the royal court, aristocracy, Buddhist monks and commoners all celebrated tea for common drink and ritual.
It was during the Goryeo that the Buddhist Way of Tea was more fully developed and practiced.  The Way involved a tea bowl not a tea cup and powdered tea.  The powdered tea of Goryeo did not come in a can pre-ground into fine powder like the maccha or matcha we enjoy today.  Rather, after the tea was pressed into a block it was aged several months before drinking. 
Each detail from the preparation of the fire and boiling of water to the careful grinding of the tea into a powder, in the presence of the recipient(s), then the preparation and serving of the tea were all part of the Buddhist Way of tea during the Goryeo Dynasty. 
Of course Goryeo tea bowls were used.  Many were glazed with a celadon glaze.
Some years ago I found such a celadon tea bowl in an antique shop in the USA.  It was cracked and chipped but still authentic Goryeo.  What a find!  Not for its monetary value (which in spite of its age is slight) or its continuing function, but for its grace and color.  It is a simple bowl with no carving or inlay, which - if not cracked and chipped - would dramatically raise its monetary value.  Our bowl is one of thousands of similar bowls probably made for the common market at the time.  But the grace of its curve and the way it fits my hands is unparalleled. 
Each time I hold this bowl I am drawn back in time and sit with a monk serving tea in the Goryeo Buddhist Way of Tea.  Tea grew wild behind the temple perhaps in a grove of bamboo.  There only the fresh new leaves were picked for tea.  Then, it was processed by roasting on a hot metal plate.  The leaves were pressed into a block and aged until this moment when the monk silently breaks the block of tea and with a special spoon grinds the tea into powder and prepares it.  Pure mountain water has been drawn from the temple spring for this moment.   The taste is subtle, not strong with a very light slightly burnt flavor – delicious.  We sit peacefully and respectfully in meditative silence enjoying the tea, enjoying the bowl, contemplating the moment.  Not a word is spoken.

This ancient bowl swells up from a narrow, unpretentious foot and curves subtly near the lip to gently contain the tea.  Its color is also subtle like the form.  No more graceful form could be imagined.  

The interior narrows to a small ring shaped indentation, perhaps to catch the errant tea powder.

We are startled when we see the foot.  It is rough, marred by the gravel and clay on which it sat during the firing. 

The glaze was applied casually and reveals areas where it pooled to be slightly thicker when the glaze was poured back.  The fine crackled surface tells me it was not made in Gangjin but still, for me, it remains a bowl of quality.

Not all celadon bowls are as graceful as mine.  The forms of some latter ones are more like Joseon bowls quickly formed and uneven with less marred feet where wads of clay raised this bowl from the floor of the kiln. 

Others have upright bodies and tall feet.  Notice the difference in reduction on this bowl.  It illustrates the importance of the proper reduction to capture the best color.  The left side is too oxidized.  Had it been over reduced, it would have been more gray.

Still others are refined and fluted, testimony to the skill of the artist. 

Perhaps most surprising were copper red under-painted celadon tea bowls such as this one found in the British Museum, London.  I have heard that Korea used copper red 200 years before China.

Many others, with similar form as mine, were carved and inlayed.  Such a piece is this 13th c black and white slip inlayed tea bowl that at one time was in the Gregory Henderson Collection presumed given to Harvard University after Henderson’s untimely death. 
But for me, none can match the subtle beauty of my cracked and chipped antique shop find.
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I apologize to those museums or private collections whose celadon tea bowls I have displayed without credit.  I have no idea where or when I  found these images as they have been part of my image collection for some time. If the image is yours please contact me with proof of ownership and I will either credit your collection or remove the image.  Thank you.
My personal thanks to Alan Covell for permission to publish the copper red and Henderson teabowl from the book The World of Korean Ceramics.  If you have an interest in a copy of this out of print book, contact me.
For more information on celadon go to the web site Gangjin Celadon.Com.

To see some wonderful celadon, additional Korean ceramics and other art visit the Leeum Museum in Seoul.  To take the virtual tour, go to the website, click on Exhibitions and then click on Permanent Exhibitions.  The virtual tour is great but a real tour would be better.   We are planning a very special tour for May 2013.  It will combine tea and ceramics including the Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival, the WOCEF Ceramic Biennale, great ceramic artists and trace the history of tea.  You will stay in an ancient temple, enjoy the Korean Way of Tea served by a Seon monk and pick and process your own tea.  Mention this blog and receive a free copy of The Korean Way of Tea and possibly other incentives.  I didn't mean to announce this yet but we always visit the Leeum and it seemed appropriate.  I didn't want to make this blog a commercial for tours.  All tours are non profit and sometimes partly subsidized as our goal is simply to promote Korean arts and culture.  You can pre-register at the Tea Tour website.   Preregistration doesn't obligate you to go but will keep you informed.  We have no advertising budget so please tell your friends.

Your comments and questions are welcome.
Watch for my next post on the great Japanese tea master Sen Rikyu and a chawan used by him.