Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The “Kizaemon Ido”

The “Kizaemon Ido”
   Perhaps the most famous chawan is known as the “Kizaemon Ido” chawan. This bowl first made famous in the West through the translation of the writings of Soetsu Yanagi by Bernard Leach of Yanagi's book The Unknown Craftsman.   Several years later, Jon Carter Covell and her son Alan Covell published their book The World of Korean Ceramics and added information about this Korean “captive” chawan now residing at the Daitoku-ji temple of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. That temple is closely linked to the tea masters Sen no Rikyū and the great Kobori Enshū.
   I first met and became friends with Jon Carter Covell in 1978 when we roomed on the same floor at the International House at Ewah Womans University. Jon, a Buddhist, had lived at Daitoku-ji for many years before moving to Korea.  As mentioned, The Kizaemon ido was already known from the translation and publication of The Unknown Craftsman by Leach. When Jon told me that she had lived at Daitoku-ji, I immediately began to talk with her about the “Kizaemon ido”.    “Have you ever seen it?” Answer, “Yes”, “Did you ever hold it?” Again, “Yes.” “What would it take for me to get to see it?” With this question Jon paused. Then she answered, “Well, if you gave them $5000 USD, you could see it but not touch it.” As you can imagine, I have not yet seen the bowl but that event is on my “bucket list”.    Incidentally, if any of the famous Korean Ido buncheong (mishima) chawan were to come on the market today it would sell for the equivalent of millions of USD and the bidding would be intense.
   Some years ago an Abbot at Daitoku-ji told Jon Carter Covell:
       If the Koho-an should ever burn. (and it is constructed of highly flammable wood). If that single ido bowl were rescued (the “Kizaemon ido”) out of its entire art collection, from the sale of that one bowl, there would be more than enough money to rebuild the entire temple again.
   Koho-an is the memorial and mortuary temple to Kobori Enshū, the single most influential    aesthete in Japan’s history. He determined the taste of both the imperial court and the shogunal regime . . . The World of Korean Ceramics
. . .this bowl is quite obviously far from perfect.  Across the exterior of its body a horizontal scorch mark can be seen; . . . The bowl is warped and the lines of its simple out-flared shape are irregular.  The lower surface or foot has an uneven shrinkage where the glaze started to leave ts surface of the bowl during the firing.  This is called "sharkskin" and much admired by the Japanese.
With the passage of time, the white slip into which the ido bowl was dipped has darkened or seasoned, evidencing loving usage, now having mellowed into a creamy orange color.  Recognizing the importance of the passage of time was essential in the "poverty tea" of Sen Rikyu.  Time was also to be appreciated in the sense of the wonderousness of the present, to be totally aware of the present moment.  The scorch mark, the glaze irregularities, all indicate the kiln's instant moment or Zen awareness. 
   Jon and Alan Covell continue their discussion of this bowl in their now out-of-print book The World of Korean Ceramics. If there is interest in my quoting more from this rare, out-of-print book or interest in purchasing a reasonably priced signed copy of it, please contact me.  (Alan Covell has a few copies left and will sell them at their original price.)
   I will return to the explanation of “buncheong” and attempt to explain “ido” later. Let’s look at what Soetsu Yanagi says about this bowl in his book The Unknown Craftsman.
   A short digression: In 1957 I visited the English potter Bernard Leach in his studio in St Ives England. ( I may go into the details of that visit on a later post.)  While Mr. Leach and I spoke, he told me about his friendship with Soetsu Yanagi and discussed the importance of Yanagi's philosophy. “Has anything been published in English by Yanagi?” I asked. Leach answered, “I have been thinking about translating one of his books. It should be completed in about three years.” I waited 16 years until 1973 for the publication of The Unknown Craftsman and was not disappointed. In a letter I received from Bernard Leach, he wrote". . . one might think that I like Japanese ceramics best but it is Korean ceramics that moves me most."
   Of the “Kizaemon Ido” Yanagi writes:
   This single Tea-bowl is considered to be the finest in the world. There are three main kinds of Tea-bowls, those originating in China, Korea and Japan respectively. The most lovely are from Korea, and men of Tea always give them first place. (he goes on to explain the varieties of Korean bowls then writes. . ) The finest are called meibutsu O Ido, meibutsu signifying the particularly fine pieces. There are twenty six bowls registered as meibutsu, but the finest of them all, . . ., is known as Kizaemon Ido. This bowl is said to contain the essence of Tea.
   Later Yanagi continues:
   . . .For a long time I wished to see this Kizaemon bowl. I had expected to see that “essence of Tea”, the seeing eye of Tea masters, and to test my own perception; for it is the embodiment in miniature of beauty, of the love of beauty, of the philosophy of beauty, and of the relationship of beauty and life. It was within box after box, five deep, buried in wool and wrapped in purple silk.
   When I saw it, my heart fell. A good Tea-bowl, yes, but how ordinary! So simple, no more ordinary thing could be imagined. There is not a trace or ornament, not a trace of calculation. It is just a Korean food bowl, a bowl. Moreover, that a poor man would use everyday – commonest crockery.
   A typical thing for his use; costing next to nothing; made by a poor man; an article without the flavour of personality; used carelessly by its owner; bought without pride; something anyone could have bought anywhere and everywhere. That’s the nature of this bowl. The clay had been dug from the hill at the back of the house; the glaze was made with the ash from the hearth; the potter’s wheel had been irregular. The shape revealed no particular thought: it was one of many. The work had been fast; the turning was rough, done with dirty hands; the throwing slipshod; the glaze had run over the foot. The throwing room had been dark. The thrower could not read.  The kiln was a wreched affair; the firing careless. Sand had stuck to the pot, but nobody minded; no one invested the thing with any dreams. It is enough to make one give up working as a potter. . . . . .
   But that is how it should be. The plain and unagitated, the uncalculated, the  harmless, the straightforward, the natural, the innocent, the humble, the modest: where does beauty lie if not in these qualities? The meek, the austere, the un-ornate – they are the natural characteristics that gain man’s affection and respect.  Yanagi then discusses the importance of nature to Tea-bowls:
   All beautiful Tea-bowls are those obedient to nature. Natural things are healthy things. There are many kinds of art, but none is better than this. Nature produces still more startling results than artifice. The most detailed human knowledge is puerile before the wisdom of nature. Why should beauty emerge from the world of the ordinary? The answer is because that world is natural. In Zen there is a saying that at the far end of the road lies effortless peace. What more can be desired?  So, too, peaceful beauty. The beauty of the Kizaemon Ido bowl is that of strifeless peace, and it is fitting that it should rest in that chapel, the Koho-an, for in that quiet place it offers its silent answer to the seeker.
   I may return to Yanagi’s discussion later, but this seems a good place to stop for this first chawan post.
   What do you think? Should this Kizaemon Ido Tea bowl be considered the finest in the world.”?  Should we look at this bowl as the standard for Tea Bowls?  I look forward to your comments.
   On my next post, I will look at the Korean potter who made it.  Of course that person remains unknown but what is know is something of the conditions under which it was made.
   I look forward to your comments (in English) and thank you in advance for them. 
Click here to go to the next post.
I am very pleased to be able to show the bottom of this bowl.  This may be the only site on line that shows this view of the Kizaemon Ido. 


  1. Your blog is so beautiful. I am not qulalified to comment on this subject which I know so little about, but I do know beauty when I see it. Thank you for following my blog. I believe I will learn a lot from your blog postings.


  2. Hi Angela,
    Thanks for your comment. If, as you say, you “know beauty” when you see it, then you are vastly qualified to comment on this blog. Even if you did not “know beauty”, you would be qualified to comment on this blog. For “knowing” or “not knowing” seem to come from ones personal perception of their own ability to perceive; not from some external “know it all” judgment that might come from someone else who “really knows”.
    “Beauty” is best perceived directly without too much knowledge. Yanagi said, “The eye of knowledge, . . , cannot see beauty.” In other words it is good that you approach this subject with little “knowledge”. It is not good that your perception of your abilities “disqualifies” you when you are the perfect person to comment about what you see since you “see directly” being unencumbered with too much “knowledge”.
    Or better yet: Thanks for joining the discussion, your comments are valuable and very welcome.

  3. Thanks for the name of that book, another one for my library I hope

  4. Yanagi's book, The Unknown Craftsman, is still available now in paperback. You can also order a signed copy (by Alan Covell) of, The World of Korean Ceramics, through me. I know the author and he has a few copies left. Any comments or suggestions for this blog are welcome.

  5. What would be the price for The World of Korean Ceramics?

  6. Go to my "full profile" and email me. I'll contact the author and get the price for you. It was reasonable the last time I checked.

  7. The original price for this highly illustrated and informative book was $39.95 USD in 1986. I have seen used copies on for $125 USD. I can have the author send you a signed copy for $30 USD plus shipping. It would be signed by Alan Covell co-author. His mother Jon Carter Covell has passed away. Quantities are limited, one to a customer.

  8. Cho Hak,

    One is interested in getting a copy of that book. How can one go about that?


  9. Here is the deal on obtaining the book "The World of Korean Ceramics" by Jon Carter and Alan Covell. The original price was $39.95 in 1986. The current price is only $30.00 plus shipping anywhere in the world. To purchase it, contact me by e-mail that is found in my profile. You can pay me by pay pal once I determine the authors shipping price. When I receive the funds, he will ship the book. Then I'll transfer the funds to him. The book will be signed by Alan Covell as his mother Jon Covell has passed away. I can't recommend this book more highly. It is richly illustrated and photos are all in color. But it is a small book only 128 pages. This is my go-to book on Korean ceramics and I have many books on the subject.

  10. I spent several hours today in Icheon, Korea discussing tea bowls in general and the Kizaemon bowl specifically with a Korean potter who held and examined the bowl some years ago.
    It is his opinion that the revered Ido bowls were not everyday ricebowls that were made in the tens of thousands but were made by a small number of potters as 'trial runs' for a new shape that was abandoned after a short time. This would explain their rarity for they were always treasured once they reached Japan and were not subject to attrition the way commoner pottery is. It's also his belief that the Ido bowls came to Japan before the age of 'Wabi' tea and were not singled out in Korea for special attention.
    Another view held by some Korean authorities is that the famous Ido bowls were special from the time of their creation because they were made as ceremonial offertory pots and were never the 'common crockery' of conventional wisdom. He bases this on the high foot which is common on ceremonial pieces but would be unstable when used to eat rice from. If you've ever seen Koreans and Japanese eat rice from a bowl there are real differences. Japanese will hold the bowl in one hand while eating out of it with chopsticks while a Korean leaves the bowl on the table while eating out of it with either chopsticks or a long handled spoon.A high footed bowl full of rice(or water or barley tea used to rinse out the last remaining grains of rice) is unstable when eaten from in the Korean manner.
    The offertory bowl theory seems unlikely to me as these bowls are crudely made by any standards and the Koreans were certainly capable of producing more refined ware for civil and religious purposes, something that was taken very seriously.
    By the way every potter in Korea who works in the traditional style makes his version of these bowls . Greg Caltabiano 8/4/2010 Geochong, Korea

  11. Greg, Thanks for your comments and the addition to this discussion. I apologize for not responding to your comments earlier. When your post arrived I had just landed in Korea to host a group of international ceramic artists on a ceramic artist exhibit and tour. That took most of my time for the month. Now I have a little time to think about what you are suggesting.
    First, I’ve heard similar theories before. Most of the theories revolve around a limited production for some reason or another. Basically some suggest that they were made specifically in one area or even at one kiln site. I personally subscribe to that theory as most of Korean ware of various styles can trace their origin to one area or even one kiln. This is particularly true for buncheong and other Joseon Dynasty ware. Individual artists were producing the ware and certainly individuality and creativity wasn’t absent. Individual artists change style for many reasons.
    In trying to understand the ware we have to try to understand or ‘channel’ the potter who was making it. We can’t assume for instance that they thought like us or abided by the same rules of etiquette as contemporary Koreans. These were not high-class people. Some suggest that they ranked about the same as prostitutes and butchers (not to put down either profession). It was just as that society was structured. In some cases you can put monks in the same category during that period of history. So when you say Koreans don’t touch their bowls when eating we can view that with some suspect even though it is the polite way to eat in Korea. If you really watch Koreans eat – and I mean all walks of life, many hold their bowls or touch the foot of their bowls in spite of proper etiquette. It depends on the company and circumstance. These potters were not high-class individuals. They were not that interested in table manners. If you ever get to know some of the non-college educated potters, the ones not interested in analyzing or theory, the ones who simply create ware, especially the older potters, you will get a little closer to understanding the old Korean potter and the answers you seek.

  12. As for the high foot, one should not rule out another reason. A bowl, especially a small bowl, is easier to glaze with a higher foot. Certainly there is ample evidence that shows the Korean potter held the foot as a handle for glazing these bowls. The bowl is quickly thrown and quickly glazed. Small bowls with really short feet, like some of Korea’s and Japan’s other tea bowls styles, were more awkward to glaze. I have seen some examples where the bowl was held by its side when it was glazed.
    Some theories suggest that the Idos were rice bowls for humble people. Other theories suggest that they were not rice bowls but made for a specific tea bowl order from Japan. Some tea ware experts claim that while there are few Ido ‘survivors’ but that there are many shards. Some theories suggest that Sen Rikyu was a fraud and along with Hideyoshi trumped up the whole wabi sabi tea thing to simply get rid of some of Hideyoshi’s vast collection of tea ware. Nearly all the theories suggest some reason for a limited production of Ido. In any case, it is because of the Ido bowl that Korea has the reputation for making high feet on their bowls when there are many other types of Korean tea bowls with short feet.
    You are probably right in that they are not ordinary ceremony bowls like a ‘dawan’ but there are many Koreans who in ordinary conversation use the word ‘dawan’ and mean tea bowl. Were the Idos ‘captive bowls’ as I suggested? Honestly one can’t be sure. Not all Korean teabowls in Japan were ‘captive’ as many were ordered and imported.
    We are however certain about a few things the Idos are simple and not contrived – a fact that could wash away some theories. After years of study they still maintain their integrity and claim our interest.
    I discussed your post with a couple of internationally known Korean teabowl artists; (think of some of the best known tea artists in Korea, and your may know to whom I spoke). In essence they agreed that it is all theory and we really don’t know the answer to some very interesting questions about these bowls. During one of those discussions one tea bowl master pulled out a large book with photos of all the Ido bowls known – amazing. I coveted that out of print book. That master is trying to find specifically where in Korea the Kizaemon was made. If your teacher knows that answer, please share it.
    Incidentally, your teacher must have some inside pull to be able to touch the Kizaemon bowl even if he used gloves gloves. What is real is the passion and esteem surrounding the Kizaemon bowl both in Japan and Korea.

  13. Dear Cho Hak;
    What a pleasant suprise to read my contribution to your blog- I was at least a sentance into it before I recognised it as my writing.
    The potter who examined the Kizaemon bowl was the winner of a prestigious teabowl competition in Japan.One of the judges was , I believe ( I say believe because this was my wife's translation to me}the roshi at Daito-kuji (into whose safekeeping the bowl was entrusted several hundred ears ago)and as part of his reward for beating all the competition the roshi felt that the potter deserved to examine the treasure.I learned this when I correctly identified the bowl in the photos prominently displayed in the potter's showroom.He was amazed that I knew exactly what I was looking at.It was he who espoused the theory that the Ido bowls came to Japan before the age of "wabi style" tea.
    I didn' meen to suggest that Koreans don't touch their rice bowls while eating rather that they don't-as a rule- lift them off the table.While this is only an idea based on my observation,I've been eating with Koreans -granted fairly well educated Koreans-for 25 years.Did I mention that my wife is a Korean artist? As you said a high footed bowl is easier to glaze than a low footed one,and a high footed rice bowl -Japanese style- is easier to lift from the table than a low footed- Korean style-bowl would be.
    Another thought that occured to me is this: is it possible that the Japanese got the idea of using Korean rice bowls as tea bowls after watching Koreans rinse the last few grains of rice from their bowls with water or barley or corn tea at meal's end? I've only observed this among elderly and well educated younger people.Perhaps a legacy of the extreme hardships that all but the wealthiest Koreans suffered up until the sixties? Just an idea.BTW my wife and I are in Korea to oversee the final details of the house we're building outside of Geochang.With any luck there will be a studio for me to work in.Did I mention that I, also, am a potter?
    Greg C

  14. Soyoo, I really appreciate your comments.
    I assumed that you were a potter and from your comments and questions probably a good one. I’m attempting to comprise a list or the American potters living and working in Korea. I don’t know of many but the list does seem to be slowly growing. As I am sure you have discovered Korea is bursting at the seams with ceramic artists and supports a true ceramic culture – currently more than Japan or China if my Japanese and Chinese potter friends are correct.
    I just presented an address at OEUK 2010 in Ulsan and was amazed at the effort and money put forth to make that event a success.
    As for your idea that “…the Japanese got the idea of using Korean rice bowls as tea bowls after watching Koreans rinse the last few grains of rice from their bowls with water or barley or corn tea at meal's end”. From what I understand, the tradition of using bowls comes originally from China along with the word ‘cha-wan’ that is really a Chinese word not a Japanese one. “Wan” means bowl. The practice of using powdered tea is a long one. During the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea the practice was to grind the tea, in front of the guests, into a powder in a bowl with a ‘grinding spoon’ then make the liquid tea from it. A kind of ‘do it yourself’ matcha. So the practice of using powdered tea isn’t Japanese either. What the Japanese have done is market their culture better than any other Asian country. So we think of many things as being Japanese when they are really of Chinese or Korean origin. I remember many years ago there was a Japanese book with the title something like How to Wrap an Egg that showed a number of eggs wrapped with rice straw – very beautiful and poetic. Many people thought, “How clever of the Japanese”. The old method of wrapping eggs that way was/is Korean. In a like manner there are many “Japanese” ceramic practices, aesthetic values and tea ceremony practices that have their roots in Korea. Sen Rikyu had a Korean grandfather who was an aesthetician working in Japan. After all, Korea was the first country to have a ceremony involving tea long before either China or Japan. That is why I use the word ‘dawan’ in the title of this blog. A ‘dawan’ is a ceremony bowl and I often hear Koreans refer to tea bowls as a ‘dawan’.

  15. For a fascinating take on the Mingei movement and it's proponent Yanagi, type in "Japanese modernisation and Mingei theory" by Yukio Kikuchi into Google.
    For somebody like myself who has been under the influence of "Unknown Craftsman" since it's publication it was an eyeopener and gives tremendous insight into the movement, and one of it's founders.I hoped to get a copy of this book but copies start at $175 on Amazon!Out of this potter's reach at least for now.
    Another excellant source of information about Yanagi is the recent biography of Bernard Leach by Emmanuel Cooper. However, I won't reccomend this book to anyone who wishes to keep Leach & friends on their pedestal as it shows all involved with all their warts (which are considerable - remember we're talking about world renown artists & philosophers ) but gives additional insight into Yanagi , Leach, & Hamada. BTW, I'm in Korea and would enjoy hearing from anyone in the area at, my wife's website. Greg C

  16. Soyoo, I believe Kikuchi is very biased. You can read an essay at the William Morris Society page:
    Cooper is better. He has no axe to grind, but is pretty factual.
    Chiaki Ajioka's essay at the same site is excellent and disagrees with Kikuchi's assessment.
    Yanagi tried to protect local culture in Korea, but also the culture of Okinawa and that of the Ainu from the infringements of Imperial Japan. I have disagreements with Yanagi about the role of modern studio potters in Mingei, but those disagreements do not in anyway question his desire to protect local culture. Lee Love in Mpls. I apprenticed in Mashiko, Japan

  17. I am so happy to have read this piece, for many reasons, not the least of which is to learn of Jon Covell's interest in chanoyu relevant ceramics and her having lived @ Daitokoji. I am familiar with her work (and that of Alan) about Korean shamanism. The latter, as well as chanoyu, are the two deepest areas of my interest. If there is a copy of The World of Korean Ceramics that is available, please let me know via my Facebook page "The Way of Tea in LA". Thanks.

  18. Thank you for commenting Lauren. My readers should also become acquainted with your work especially those near LA. I will contact Alan and see what I can do about acquiring the book for you and others. This post suggests a special price of $30.00. But the price has probably gone back to $39,00 the original published price. That said I have seen it at over $100 on Amazon or Ebay. We will seewhat happens.