Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The Way of Tea and the tea bowl: understanding tea ceremony utensils


You need utensils to drink tea. If you are making matcha, the kind of tea used in tea ceremony, you need no more than a tea bowl and a whisk.


Matcha, which is a powdered form of tea, is placed in a bowl, and then hot water is poured over it. It is then necessary to mix the tea and hot water. The utensil used for this task is called a “chasen” (tea whisk).


There is no need to perform the procedures of tea ceremony when you want to drink tea in your daily life. All you need to do is enjoy drinking your tea.


Among the utensils of tea ceremony, the most popular is the tea bowl, and there is a vast range of bowls. Because the tea bowl holds the tea and you bring it to your mouth to drink it, the bowl is considered the most familiar of tea utensils.


  Types of tea bowls
Even if you don't use it to perform a tea ceremony, just the tea bowl itself is has its own inherent value as a work of art. Many Japanese people have tea bowls because they are articles that can be appreciated and admired. Tea bowls are used to decorate entrance halls and drawing rooms, or to make a room look more elegant.


Other utensils used in tea ceremony are less familiar. For example, Japanese people generally don't have a tea whisk unless they perform tea ceremonies.


In the same way, few people have a cha’ire (a vessel used to store matcha) or a chashaku (bamboo tea spoon used to scoop the matcha and put it into a tea bowl).


On the other hand, tea bowls are often used in Japan as utensils for eating cooked rice. In the beginning, tea bowls were used to drink tea, as their name suggests. But they have come to be widely used and familiar in everyday life.




Tea bowls used as tea utensils are divided into three major categories:


  ・Karamono tea bowls;
  ・Kōrai tea bowls;
  ・Wamono tea bowls.


“Karamono” refers to bowls made in China. In the beginning, tea ceremony used expensive tea bowls imported from China, so Karamono was the main type of bowl at that time. In particular, during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), celadon glazed Karamono was the standard type of tea bowl.


Kōrai tea bowls, on the other hand, were imported from Korea. Many kōrai tea bowls were made during Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).


Finally, there are wamono tea bowls that are made in Japan. Japan developed pottery traditions of its own, such as Mino ware, Shigaraki ware, and Hagi ware. The pottery made in these traditions includes various kinds of pots used in everyday life, such as dishes and vases, but wamono pottery is also used for tea ceremony utensils.


Tea bowls can sometimes be very expensive items. However, it must never be forgotten that tea bowls should always play a supporting role in tea ceremony, and that the true purpose of a tea ceremony is to enjoy drinking delicious tea.


It is true that one of the tea ceremony customs is to show one’s appreciation of the tea bowl, but the tea must be the main point, and the ceremony should never become focused on the display of fancy utensils.


  Utensils for tea ceremony
The Way of Tea eliminates the superfluous and esteems simplicity. This type of tea ceremony is called “wabi-cha.” Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) was the person who perfected this tea ceremony that we perform even today.


Before Sen no Rikyū introduced wabi-cha, tea ceremony was performed with a focus on utensils. In other words, this former tea ceremony was rather like a gathering for the purpose of admiring luxury items. Sen no Rikyū introduced Buddhist concepts into this kind of tea ceremony, elevating it so that it became a place where the focus was on communication.


Tea bowls made in Japan became widely used because of Rikyū's innovations. With the development of more suitable tea bowls, tea ceremony broke away from the old style if ceremony in which the display of expensive utensils was the main point.


In this way, tea ceremony developed into a traditional Japanese form of culture in which the emphasis was not on the implements of the ceremony, but rather, on things such as valuing the relationships between people and serving one’s guests wholeheartedly.

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