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Water Jar for Tea Ceremony
Japan, Mie Prefecture
Momoyama to Edo period, late 16th-early 17th century Stoneware with impressed design under glaze
9 x 7 x 7 in.

The indigenous ceramic tradition in Japan goes back some 12,000 years. By the 16th century certain types of stoneware were produced by potters especially for the tea ceremony. At this time, taste rejected the perfection of Chinese ware in favor of simple, rougher looking, Korean-influenced ware, producing an aesthetic that valued the imperfect. Irregular glaze, shape, and decoration were all aspects of this new aesthetic.

The drinking of powdered green tea came to Japan from China at the end of the 12th century. The tea was scooped into a bowl, hot water was added, and the two were mixed together with a bamboo whisk.

Tea ceremony
The Way of Tea (chanoyu) consists of the simple acts of serving tea and receiving it with gratitude. Its goal is to realize tranquility of mind in communion with one's fellow man. Chanoyu is not the same as merely drinking tea. Rather, chanoyu involves certain rules and etiquette born out of a specific philosophical approach to life.

Zen Buddhism, in which enlightenment was achieved by seated meditation, was introduced into Japan from China in the early Kamakura period. It was in Zen monasteries that a code of etiquette for tea first developed during the 14th century. The appreciation of tea spread from the monasteries to the Kyoto aristocracy and the warrior class. By the 16th century increasingly ostentatious gatherings brought a reaction and under Sen no Rikyu, tea master to the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the tea ceremony found a new simplicity and spirituality and became associated with the value known as poverty (wabi).

Attending a tea ceremony
If you were invited to a tea ceremony, you would enter the outer gate, pass through a rustic garden to the middle gate, and then to the inner garden of the teahouse, thereby separating yourself from the outside world. The inner garden's path might be made up of stepping stones set in a manner that enables the guests to enjoy different views of the plantings as they proceed. In the center of the garden would be a carved stone basin with running water and a wooden dipper for rinsing hands and mouth. As a token of humility, you would enter the teahouse by crouching through a low entryway. The entrance was originally designed in this way so that no weapons could be brought into the teahouse. The last guest would close the door. The tearoom might be a special enclosure within a home or a separate structure. In either case, the space is small and the walls no more than six feet high.

Before the start of the ceremony, the host would have made certain that the teahouse and garden were clean, that a fire was laid in the hearth, and that water be put on the fire to boil. If a meal were to be served, the host would have prepared it in an adjacent section of the teahouse. In the alcove (tokonoma) there would be a work of art, perhaps a scroll or a basket with flowers. All utensils, implements, and art would reflect the season or mood.

When the guests are assembled, the host would prepare the tea using water jars, a kettle, a lid rest, a bamboo scoop, a bamboo whish, a tea caddy, and bowls. The first round of whisked tea would be thick and served in one bowl passed among the guests. The second round would be thin and served in individual bowls. Only the guests would partake of the tea. Both host and guests would have experienced a social communion among equals--the enjoyment of tea, of beautiful objects, and of the ephemeral nature of the moment.

The aesthetic of tea
The wabi aesthetic elevated the earthy and often distorted tea bowls, water jars, and flower vases made at domestic kilns over the previously favored perfectly flawless ceramics. Even as the dominant tastes of the tea ceremony changed over time and more flamboyant pots came to be favored, the majority of Japanese stoneware from the Momoyama and early Edo periods continued to be characterized by unusual shapes, rich glaze colors and textures, and often highly individualistic and playful decorations.

How to look at this work
The jar has a square bottom and a round top with a cover. The sides are marked with lines and seem rough and uneven. The surface glaze is uneven; the cover is dark and mottled, while along the top of the square body glaze drips down each side. On each face a stamped design is partially obscured by the rivulets of glaze.

For the tea practitioners of the Momoyama period, this object would have been appealing precisely because of its imperfections.

The jar would have been part of the basic equipment for the tea ceremony. The container held fresh water, which was boiled in a hot brazier and then poured into individual tea bowls and briskly whisked with bright green powdered tea leaves.

How this object was made
This jar was first made on a pottery wheel. Then the potter used his hands to change the rounded form into a square one. It is made from stoneware, a type of clay. The potter then applied the glaze to produce the uneven drips and imperfections and the jar was fired at temperatures between 1200 C and 1300 C. The clay fused to produce a body that is harder than earthenware and is impermeable. The lid was made separately.

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