“Rather a chawan — even one going for a pittance — should be a kokoro-utuswa,
a “place” in which to discover oneself, a vessel to hold your spirit. A chawan must have sublime grace and depth,
being a visible (and invisible) expression of the potter's understanding of chado, the Way of Tea. ”
Robert Yellin, www.e-yakimono.net
I don’t do tea ceremony but often in te evenings I make matcha in my bowls. But rather than than just having the bowls sit around waiting to do tea ceremony, I regularly, walk out out to the dining room, pick up a piece of pottery, hold it in my hands, turn it, feel its texture and weight, appreciate the color; its a refreshing experience.
Oribe is an old style of pottery in Japan. For me it is an example of potters over hundreds of years who have comitted themselves to finding personal expression in a style. You can see the style of each potter, but you can see that they are all Oribe.
Generally Oribe, like you see on the right has a beige background, a dark brown drawing, some green drips, often a brown circular line arond the inside top and a place on the outside where a flat tool has made an indent (Figure 3 right side). Other styles of Oribe are Kuro-oribe (black Oribe), and where the pot is all green.
Figure 1 Oribe was a gift from my sister Deborah De Snoo, writer, director and producer of the film Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire. This bowl was not thrown on a wheel but shaped by hand.
The second one I saw on the internet and liked its delicate feel, but when I got it and picked it up, it even felt more delicate than it looked. When I picked up this bowl, I felt for the first time, this was a women’s tea bowl. No not women’s, a feminine tea bowl, whatever that means.
The third one I bought in Kyoto at a tea store. They told me that this was made by the adopted son of a famous Oribe potter. Adopted means that an outside male married into the family and took the family name of his wife to carry on the family name in the business. When I showed this bowl to Robert Yellin he immediately said the same thing, so it is probably so.
The fourth and fith were dangerous purchases, I got then on Ebay. It was for auction but I just offered the bid start amount and it was sold to me. they are not young, but I would not know how old it is. I ike Kuro-Oribe (Black -Oribe) and this one strongly attracted my eye. I hesitate to make such a purchase on Ebay because I have seen many pieces for sale with not honest descriptions. In this case I really liked this one and I asked to veritfy it had no chips and was not a copy or imitation (whatever that could mean). It obvously was not new, bu no reson to think it is a valuable antique, The box that showed on Ebay had no writing, obviously not original. I felt that I knew at worst level what I was buying and I also felt I could hope for something better. I was not disappointed
The six one I bought in a San Francisco store. Seven one is a summer tea bowl I found in San Francisco in a pile of mostly not very interesting cheap tea bowls, no box.
Shino is another older Japanese kiln. Shino and Oribe come from the same area, Mino/Seto. Shino actually came before Oribe and a modification to the Shino kiln produced Oribe. Shino is generally a white glaze.
The first (Figure eight) is a Unohagaki style Shino Chawan. This is an imitation of a famous old Shino chawan. Stilll its about 60 years old. I had seen the original Unohagaki Shino Chawan in the museum and pictures of it so many times, and always admired it. I got this from Robert Yellin over the internet. When I saw it I knew immediately I wanted it. When I recieved it, opened the box and picked it up, I said to myself, “ This is what a REAL chawan feels like.”
Figure nine is also Shino style. Once when visiting my wife’s family in a small town called Obara-mura in Gifu Prefecture, about a 20 minute drive into the mountains from Toyoda City, her brother, who knew I was interested in pottery took me over the hill to Mino. Of course I had no idea where we were going, as he did not speak English and I did not understand Japanese. We came to a factory district where obviously the main products were ceremics, not for pottery but big factories making ceramics for industrial use. He pulled into a parking lot of a small store among these factories which turned out to be a pottery store. That is where I bought this Shino chawan.
Hagi is famous for chawan. On one of its military invasions of Korea Japanese war lords brought back some Korean potters. Korean tea bowls were considered the best. They were brought to the Hagi area and some Japanese potters learned from them or imitated their style . The Ido hagi style is considered to be very similar to the original Korean chawan. Chawan tena nd eleven were found in a San Franciso store. I believe they are Hagi because of the glaze and the notches in the foot. However the the box for figure ten says something about a chawan with a picture on it. Obviously there is no picture on it. Also the bowl fit too loose in the box. Japanese pottery often comes in a wooden box and it usually fits perfectly in the box.
On the box chawan eleven there was a different name for the potter than the characters in the mark on the piece itself, and it fit very loosely in the box. But you can also see the notch in the foot.
The last two come from my wife’s family. The first family treasure, the second with the enso, was made by a member of her family.
What makes pottery so wonderful?
First, using it. Second picking it up, holding it, feeling it. Good pottery feels good. Third, looking at it, the colors, the way light reflects off of it, the contrast between the glaze and the clay. For many people precision is important. Does the potter control the process. I am more tempted to think that the potter makes some suggestions, some recommendations to the kiln, like God creating evolution and then letting it go its own way. For me, when the potter has tried to TELL the kiln what to do, the piece feels lifeless.