The Three Great Obligations of Japanese Culture and Cha no Yu


I have written about these ‘Three Obligations’ in a previous post that delved into the meaning of ‘Moshi-Iwake-gozaimasen’. After a number of personal events were endured, felt that it was necessary to revisit this subject in a more personal manner.

There are three ‘obligations’ in Japanese traditional culture that are deeply embedded in their society. Most Westerners are unaware of these Confucian cornerstones that are foundations of this ancient and venerable people. They will be discussed and this Author will give his opinions and on how they affect our modern notions of these important concepts. These three obligations permeate the culture of Cha no Yu, and shall be brought to bare using My own experiences as examples as to their influence in my own life. You, the reader, may take what you wish from this; but rest assured that when observing how Japanese society works- these three principle obligations should not be overlooked.

I will examine the axis point of these three ‘Ons’; That axis point being that even though one should strive endlessly to repay the debt owed to these three entities, one could never balance the scales fully. It is understood that the sacrifice, dedication, knowledge, compassion, support, and suffering given by the upper to the lower was always greater than the lower could ever repay. But the lower should always commit to try to balance this lopsided gift; even if it meant sacrificing ones’ life to do so.

1. The Obligation to the Nation and Emperor.

This First ‘On’ (pronounced ‘own’) is the responsibility of the citizen to the state/nation. One strives to be a model participant in the political structure by deferring and paying deep respect to the head of the nation; in this case- the Emperor. In Confucian terms, he is the spear head who leads his people to prosperity and peace. In traditional China, this was called the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ bestowed upon the Emperor whose job it was to carry out the admonitions of ‘Heaven’ to bring the people to more harmonious lives with little crime and abundant wealth. If the Chinese Emperor fell short of this mandate, or the subjected people suffered, economies fell, or political strife led to war, then a new ‘chosen one’ was picked by “Heaven’ to lead the nation back on track. Thus it was part of the obligations of the people to follow the Emperor as a son or daughter would follow the directions of the Father in a large family.

In Japan, Confucian ideals were adopted by the ruling elite and even though the Emperor held no political power or military advantage since the Heian period (794 AD to 1185 AD), the Shogun still paid respect and obligation to him by being seen to be taking care of such matters on his behalf. That way this ex-halted ‘Grandson of Heaven’ would not be worried or bothered by such trivial matters such as state craft, or political intrigue. The responsibility of the citizen to the state was a one way power gifting; with younger respecting and learning from the older, Son deferring to Father, employee obeying employer, and citizen doing ones best- including giving one’s life in order to preserve the ‘State’. The Forty Seven Samurai is a breath-taking example of this commitment in trying to repay ones’ debt to ones’ superior. Volumes, Kabuki plays, and films ex-halt the ultimate sacrifice for this ‘On’ in beautiful imagery. Shrines have been built in order to remember this heroic act.

But in this day and age, we find ourselves in very different circumstances. Nixon, G.W. Bush, and countless other politicians in America as well as Japan find themselves being caught in the harsh spotlight of scrutiny as they wield power on behalf of the rich 1%. The history of America is littered with such horrible examples. The history of Japan most likely reveals the same; even though I am not current on that subject. I will not go into the examples that are disappointingly fresh in all of our minds concerning the ineptitude of these representatives of the State. This first Confucian ideal falls short and seems unrealistic in today’s world. But we do hold deep affection for and reverence to the Kings, Queens, and Imperial families of this modern era. Royal watchers both in Japan, and England have created an industry as the public scrambles for titbits on the comings and goings of the Royals. In Japan, the current Grand Tea Master of Urasenke has married into the Imperial family; and is just as influential in the promotion of Peace and international understanding. This first ‘On’ has found a place to reside in our psyche; just not in the way that might be as traditional as it was before.

Set of stamps

2. The Obligation to Ones’ Teachers

As I grew up, my Mother taught spacial education to kids with learning disabilities. Later she taught grade school. Countless times she dragged herself through our door; exhausted, worn, and needing to decompress. A few times she came in late due to the fact that she had been stabbed with a pencil by a student whose disability occasionally expressed itself in violent behavior. Her lateness was due to a hospital visit. The next day she tried her best to teach that same student- with no sharp objects in the room this time. She sacrificed much of her health and well-being for her students. Her commitment was undaunted; her dedication was heroic.
The teachers who made a lasting impact on my life can never be repaid except for me being the best that I can be in upholding their standards, knowledge, and ethics that they instilled in me. The best teachers are the ones who want their students to surpass them. They strive and work toward the goal of one of their students doing so well, learning so much, and working so hard, that they excel past the talents and abilities of the teacher. There is no ego involved; in fact they are proud of what their former student has accomplished. Teachers can take any form, have endless patience, inject humour and acknowledgement for a job well done, encourage with a smile, and try to bring out the best in you.

I have been extremely lucky to have met a few of these rare and wonderful beings. The debt that I owe them is immeasurable. Some of them have been teachers of Cha no Yu. I could write page after page of their glowing talents and the techniques that they used to ignite that spark inside me. We all hopefully have encountered such super beings and if we are lucky, our lives have been made better.

I have also had the misfortune of meeting some of the worst ‘teachers’ ever to walk the earth…and some of them have been Tea teachers as well. Remember that just because a person has a ‘Cha-mie’ (Tea ‘name’ awarded by the school to those who have advanced enough to earn the teaching position), does not necessitate them as being a good teacher of the Way. Infact it has been known that such certification can be bought for a hefty price. I met one such person while in Kyoto who possessed a ‘chamei’ and had never hosted a chaji, practised temae, or knew much about Tea in general. Sadly, he was ordered to participate in a demonstration viewed by the Grand Tea Master himself. He failed so miserably that his license was revoked, and he was sent packing back to Osaka.

Bad teachers take many forms. One who comes to mind uses ‘The Way of Tea’ as a front for scalping their unsuspecting student’s hard earned money. This teacher even stole money from me for goods as yet to be delivered. It has been a long time, and I doubt I will ever see that package in the mailbox. I was accused of being too boisterous, enthusiastic, and too generous. I was instructed to practice ‘Enryo’ (reserve, reticence). “The High Nail get the Hammer” was to be my motto. Yet this teacher said and did two different things. It was more of a “Do as I say- not as I do” mentality. I knew that there was no harmony to be accorded , no respect to be exchanged, no purity of heart to be shared, and no tranquillity to be found in the mind of this troubled soul. Their life was a cautionary tale; a glaring example of how not to practice the Way of Tea, or live your life.

There are those who will scam you, lie to you, tell you what you want to hear, and rip you off… all in the name of ‘Tea’. I know of one teacher who has a pernicious habit of abusing their students to the point of tears on a regular basis. There aren’t many students who stay; and those that do seem to enjoy abuse on a level inappropriate for mention in this article.
This is not unique to the world of Cha no Yu and such devious examples can be found in any field of study. Here the ‘On’ has no existence to inter-prate since the only lesson to learn is to run the other way. If a teacher is abusive, insulting, belittling, passive-aggressive, lies, or whose actions are different than their words, then they must be avoided at all costs. Modern teaching techniques, ethics, and standards have yet to filter into the traditional world of Tea. There is a staunch traditional attitude in Japanese culture that if a teacher is tough on you- then they are interested in you. The more that they abuse you- the more promise you are showing. Thus the most strict, unbending, abusive teachers have been traditionally seen to be ‘the best’. This philosophy comes from Zen anecdotes of the disfunctional relationships between student and master that have been mythologised through folklore. If you doubt this; simply google “Problems with Zen Buddhism’ and start reading any of the entries. I had the grave misfortune of becoming a junior monk of the Soto Sect under one of these so called ‘Masters of Zen’. Our entire congregation suffered and finally dissolved due to his abuses, lies, and actions not matching his words- ‘crazy wisdom’ be damned! If the ‘teacher’ finds no promise in you, they simply ignore your very existence. No talking-no notice, no acknowledgement of your being on this earth by him- shows that ‘you need to work harder’ to gain his eye. The problems with this method should be quite obvious.

Hopefully, when learning The Way of Tea, we can find one who can nurture us and help us along our way; one who can remember that ‘Peace through a bowl of Tea’ has uncountable levels of meaning, and who can practice the four principles through their personal example.


3. The Obligation to Ones’ Parents

This is one of the hardest ‘Ons’ to try to repay. As stated before, there is no way to balance the scale. In the Confucian world the spheres of obligation spread out like ripples in a pond; always fanning out in one direction. His protocols for relationship are based of a standard traditional family model. In our modern age, this is rather uncommon. Families can be defined in many different ways. Each country has a different traditional model that sometimes does not fit the Confucian ideal. How do we observe and honor the obligation of parents and family?

I look toward my own family as an example of the problems with Confucius’ model. My father was a two timing drunk. He deserted my mother and I was two. He remarried after that and I have two half brothers and one half sister. He was abusive to them as well. He divorced them after 13 years of hellish abuse. When I turned 18, he was no longer obligated to pay child support. He never did to begin with but now there was no legal right since I was of age. He called to try to foster some sort of ‘relationship’ with out my mother’s notice. After some strong words of ridicule from me, he stopped calling. A few years later he tried again. I reminded him of delinquent child support payments. He hung up. There was no obligation toward him. Only hatred and deep contempt. He died a few years ago. No tears were shed- only relief.
My main obligation is to my Mother. She sacrificed much on my behalf, worked very hard, made sure that I had what I needed, kept me safe, and helped me get a good education. It is to her that I owe the most. She was not perfect- no one is. but still- that balance will never be equalled.

There are many definitions of family. Some take a village, some have none at all. there are countless books written on the ‘Family’ and how it has changed over time. The Confucian ideal; does it have a place in Japanese society today? The western influences have come with technology, modern economy, and global communication. Japanese people travel and settle in different places to put down roots. There are vestiges of the Confucian family here and there. But in my opinion, it is an ideal that has no basis in modern culture. Yet this obligation can bee seen in family units that we make for ourselves. A family of two dads is just as nurturing as a traditional family unit. A parental unit of one or two is the bare necessity for human survival. This is the most difficult obligation to define and write about since all of us are unique in our relationships with our parents. I leave it to the reader to figure this one out. Who deserves recognition as a parent and thus the obligation of respect and appreciation, care and compassion? I can share my own views, but they fall very short of what truly takes place between parent and child.

These three Obligations that I have written about are simply being stated so that we who practice Tea can more fully understand who we are dealing with, who we are beholding to and why. I expect that your stories are far more interesting using the subject matter as your inspiration. I do think that Confucius has a point though. Something that we can all look at and think about concerning our own lives and the lives of those whome we owe so much- whome ever they may be.

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Tea Bowl Series — Ninsei and Kyo-yaki


The word ‘Kyo-yaki’ means pottery made in the city of Kyoto; it also denotes a great flowering of the decorative arts that found its way into the Tea room by the single handed efforts of one man- Nonomura Ninsei. As the Edo period ushered in an era of peace in Japan, the arts began to flourish in spectacular ways. Ninsei was born in Tamba which was a pottery making center, and eventually made his way to the Old Capital. “Ninsei is a combination of his given name ‘Seiemon’, and the name of the Buddhist Temple Ninna ji where his kiln was located in the city of Kyoto. Before moving to Kyoto around 1647, He studied ceramics and glazing techniques in Seto. After settling near the Temple, he established the Omuro kiln at a respectful distance from the front gate. He fostered a close relationship with the great Tea Master Kawamori Sowa (1585-1656). From this he developed a style of ceramics known as ‘Kirei-sabi’ (elegant and worn; the beauty of the ageing object of formal tastes). Ninsei borrowed from and adapted existing styles to create works of color and refinement that Kawamori promoted. He used white stone ware and enamel over-glazes to conjure works that still have a major influence to the present day. His attention to fine detail and brilliant use of design made war lords, merchants, and aristocrats pay handsome sums for his pieces.


Another first for Ninsei is the signing of his pieces. It is said that he was the first to do so. The way that he carved the feet of his tea bowls and other wares was also a hallmark of his ‘signature’ style. His hand was talented and exacting; making the style of his footed pieces another type of identification mark.


Even his son could not meet the challenge of keeping up with his father’s genius. The Daimyo Maeda Sadachika ordered 13 incense burners from Ninsei II only to send them back because they were too rough and of inferior quality. Ninsei was even coaxed into becoming a lay priest because his works showed such heavenly genius.

Today, when you walk into a store that sells Tea utensils, you will find that almost half of the wares on display are influenced by Ninsei in some form. His use of metallic gold, his seasonal designs, his vivid colors all speak to a courtly ageing elegance that is a part of every collection gathered by tea people. He inspired artists like Ogata Korin, Ogata Kenzan, Koetsu, Sotatsu, and others. He enriched the tea room in ways that we still see, touch, and use in this present era.















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Tea Bowl Series — Karatsu ware


The third greatest ceramic that Japan ranks above all others is Karatsu ware. It has brevity, is very simple, the essence of folk art, and was treasured by tea Masters for hundreds of years. It is a style of pottery that was first found around the common home; common and average being key here. It’s design has no pretense at all. Sometimes it has a few sweeps of a brush filled with iron pigment to capture a pine tree or a flower. It is the opposite of anything fancy or formal. It is much beloved by everyday Japanese for its feelings of home and hearth. Even if its picture of birds covers the whole of the surface of a plate- it is quiet and introspective in nature.


Karatsu has been a port for trade and international commerce since antiquity. It is located in Saga prefecture and has been influenced by goods which came by ship from foreign lands. This area started manufacturing pottery during the Momoyama period with the use of climbing kilns that house many chambers to create high fired wares. A piece can be decorated or not and still retain that unique ‘Wabi’ quality. Originally pieces were made for the average home out of an iron rich clay body, then decorated with an iron based under-glaze giving it an earthy quality. Then they were dipped in a semi-transparent grey over-glzaze that allowed the designs (if any) to show through. There are many different types and styles of ‘Karatsu’; even one known to have been created by the captured Korean potters from the attempted invasion by Hideyoshi. A short list is as follows:

Brush decorated Karatsu
Korean Karatsu
Combed and/or brushed slip–
White slip–
Mottled Karatsu


Karatsu is most commonly known as E-karatsu’ or pictured ware. It is one among many styles but in Tea culture it seems to be the one most recognized. It was so valued by Tea Masters that even ‘wasters’ (flaws in the piece brought on by firing, or the piece had imperfect glazing), were treasured. Usually grasses, birds, pine trees, and simple flowers adorn the sides and surfaces. Crackle can also betray the age of a piece as can be seen in the examples below. I own a few bowls of this kind and find myself studying them. the slap-dash of the brush, the occasional bleeding of pigment as the glaze ran down the side. Items for home use; nothing special- that is how this treasure is hidden. That is one reason why Karatsu is the soul of quiet profundity.



karatsu ware bowl
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Tea Bowl Series — Hagi Ware


There is a certain ‘something’ that is hard to put into words when it comes to Hagi wares. They are highly prized and it is found ranked with the best ceramics that Japan has to offer. “Ichi Raku” (1st Raku ware), “Ni Hagi” (2nd Hagi ware), “San Karatsu” (3rd Karatsu ware). is a well known statement in Tea. As we shall discover, these bowls and pottery pieces find themselves in the company of ‘Princesses’ and ‘Demons’; a fitting description during ‘Setsubun’ This is the festival when beans are thrown into rooms to cast out the ‘bad-luck Demons’ that might have been hanging around in your house during the last lunar year.


In the year 1593, the War lord Shogun Hideyoshi attempted an ill fated invasion to try and conquer the Korean peninsula. Even though he did not succeed, he captured human treasures that were later to become ‘birds in a gilded cage’. He brought back potters that were skilled in making ‘Ido’ ware rice and tea bowls. They were housed them in the Yamaguchi prefecture in a place called ‘Hagi’. Other captured potters were sent to other areas of the Empire, but none were to see their homeland again. All were given the best of everything in order for them to produce the pottery that was so coveted. Many Daimyo war-lords of the Momoyama, and Edo periods not only had to be proficient in military practices, but also had to be skilled in the arts of the ‘Tea hut’. Hagi wares became very valuable prizes, and were classified by colors, and styles. If the clay that was used to make the bowl was gritty and rough, or if the glaze ‘crawled’, it was called an ‘Oni-Hagi-jawan’ (Demon Hagi tea bowl). If the clay was smooth and the bowl was creamy with a translucent glaze covering it, then it was called ‘Hime-Hagi-Jawan’ (Princess Hagi tea bowl). Another type of Hagi possessed whitish spots which were called ‘Gohon’. The subtle colors ranged from a bluish grey- through shades of white into hues of dark mustard/peach. It has been said that one can always find room in the collection of tea utensils for one more Hagi bowl.

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There are seven stages that a good Hagi bowl goes through during its life time. 1- a change of color, 2- a change of smell, 3- a change glaze surfaces, 4- a change of texture, 5- weight changes, 6 crackle changes, 7- leak changes (if any). If you own a Hagi bowl, you can soak it in a towel lined clean stock pot full of hot water and let it sit for a few hours. This will help it achieve wonderful color and weight changes. It also helps to passively clean the bowl. This also assists in keeping the bowl warm just before using it for ‘Temae’ (procedure for making tea). A Hagi bowl is a real treat to own and use. The spirit of Wabi runs deep under its glaze.










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Tea Bowl Series — Raku ware


There is a famous saying in the world of Tea that says: “Ichi- Raku” (1st Raku ware), “Ni-Hagi” (2nd Hagi ware), San- Karatsu” (3rd Karatsu ware). This ranking states the immeasurable importance of this type of pottery in the history of Japan, and the ceramic culture of the globe.

“Raku” means ‘comfort’, ‘ease’, and ‘enjoyment’. It was taken from the palace named “Jurakudai’ ordered to be built by the great shogun War-lord Hideyoshi, and administered in its construction by Sen no Rikyu. A roof tile maker that was on site named Chojiro was commissioned by Rikyu to make tea bowls out of the clay used for the tiles. These bowls were not thrown on the wheel, they were sculpted by hand. They were to be the first tea bowls to be stamped with the seal of the maker. Hideyoshi presented the seal to Choijro’s son and for ever linked the family named Raku to the great palace. Before the presentation of that seal, Chojiro’s bowls and others like it were called “Ima-yaki” (contemporary wares) or “Juraku-yaki” (wares of the palace). Thus began the family lineage that has extended for 15 generations to the present day. ‘Raku’ is the Sir name of the family.

64 Seinyu Yachiyo

The clay that is used is a low fired type that is mined from the river bed, sifted and wedged into huge piles that reach the roof of a vast chamber in a family owned cave. There are three such caverns, each filled from floor to ceiling with clay. When A son comes of age, and starts taking on responsibilities, he fills one of the great chambers with clay for his future grandson. He will use clay made and stored for him by his grandfather. Meanwhile the clay sits in this mouldy dark space being worked over by bacteria to make it rich and ‘fat’; ( ‘fat’ clay has more moisture and is easier to work with). The clay spends decades being enriched by this slow process. Since each bowl is made by hand, it ‘fits’ the palm and fingers perfectly. Red Raku bowls were the first to be made, but Sen no Rikyu favoured dark black ones. When the bowl in the kiln has reached its best temperature, it is taken out and left to cool in the air. Some bowls are shoved into large vessels with tight fitting lids that are filled with saw dust or straw so that the bowl’s glaze will trap the carbon created by the heat. As the art form developed, caramel glazes and white glazes enrobed the pieces.


Of all of the different ceramics that the Japanese have created, Raku holds court over all. It bares the distinction of being the quintessential type of pottery known throughout the world as the hallmark of Tea culture, and of Japanese taste and quiet refinement. To have tea made in this bowl is very special. When one drinks from it, they are holding in their hands the spirit and beauty of an entire people and their history.







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19 Donyu Aoyama teabowl _O0X0901B

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3 Chojiro Tarobochojiro-tea-bowl


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Tea Bowl Series — Shino


At this cold time of year, the hands long for a warm bowl to cradle; a bowl that cups in the palm which fits the fingers somehow with comfort. The eyes yearn for the colors of tans creams, browns and reds. There are volumes written about the beauty of Shino glazes and tea bowls. There are generally three types of glaze; white (shiro), red (beni- or aka), and mouse fur (nezumi). When one peers at a Beni-Shino Tea Bowl there is mystery in the play of shadows and hues. The whipped- frosted, Gingerbread delight of the glaze makes the Tea seem richer to the taste. The brown molten sugar drips that cascade down to the foot add interest to the eye. the soft rounded touch of the lip is tactile bliss. The pin holed,crawling, creamy white glaze feels like the surface of a heated orange. The sculpted irregularity of the vessel created by the potter’s work conforms to the shape of your palm.The potter leaves of bit of themselves forever marked on the bowl with glazed ‘finger prints’. Now you hold their care and efforts. When you drink from it, you are sipping from a work of art. The foot is soft but sturdy. It is as if the kiln Gods have smiled on the makers of Shino bowls. Modern techniques have even produce ‘purple Shino’! For my friends who worry and labor what to get me for Christmas?…now you know…hint hint. This is the best bowl for Autumn and Winter in my opinion.







e-shino chawan







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Tea Bowl Series — Setoguro, Hiki-dashi-guro


Sombre, Serious, straight sided, classic, usually matt-finished, strong, and black as pitch tar; Setoguro Tea Bowls are among the Tea world’s most revered expressions of ‘Wabi’. Sen no Rikyu favoured them. He took them out of the waste products of the kiln firing process and brought them into the tea room. When a great kiln (O-gama) was being fired with wares like Shino, Seto, Kiseto, and other wares, a quickly thrown cylinder with finger prints, stone grout, and fissures was positioned near the blast holes in order to gage the temperature of the blaze inside. (Thermometers were not invented yet). After days of firing, a potter would quickly open the kiln, extract the piece with a pair of very long metal tongs which would leave a mark on its side, close the door very quickly, and douse it in water turning the glaze a dark jet black. This piece was called “hiki-dashi-guro” (pull out black). The piece was never considered worth keeping and was merely meant for determining whether the glazed pieces inside the inferno had reached the desired degree of heat. It fell upon the eyes of Rikyu to see the beauty in this imperfect object. A famous example is called “Oharagi” (O-hara wood). The Sengen kiln in Tajimi town- in Gifu prefecture produced some fine pieces, but were made only for a brief time during the Tensho and Bunraku periods. Few were salvaged at this time, and those that survive are hallmarks that plumb the fathoms of the ‘Wabi’ spirit. Recently (1920′s and onward), more modern pieces of Setoguro have been made which show the craft of the potter. Any weakness, hesitation, or flourish, will show up in the bowl; either through the throwing and/or the firing. Not all potters can make hiki-dashi guro tea bowls. They are perfect for these cold months with their straight sides holding in the heat of the tea while being cradled in the hands of a lucky guest.

Here are some photo examples of some famous pieces and some modern ones that show the style of Seto-guro Tea Bowls.











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Tea Bowl Series — Kohiki ‘Kobiki’

Orig PM Kohiki ‘Kobiki’ is a style of tea bowl that can sometimes be over looked because of its simplicity. It takes a trained eye and a bit of history to spot one of these hidden treasures in plain sight. If one looks deep into the making of it, one can see melting snow drifts, the sky on a cloudy day, the ageing plaster on an ancient garden wall, the frothy shore of a lonely deserted beach, and the gossamer veiled interiors of the imagination. It is a bowl made of iron rich clay with a porcelain slip applied to the surface. It is fired with a clear glaze, or just the slip covering only. It is the essence of ‘slap-dash’. The style came from Korean Yi Dynasty Pun-ch’ng wares (1300′s to 1910). It found great favour with the tea people of the 15oo’s and onward. The bowl looks as if it has been white washed, but the way that the slip and glaze fall make each bowl unique. Most were made by potters churning out hundreds at a time to make their quota to sell to the public. They were thrown fast- glazed fast and stuffed into a bulging kiln that produced the most pieces for the firing. That is how one such bowl was made; but it became famous from the sharp eye of a chajin. It is called ‘Matsudaira’. It can be seen as the first picture above the article post. It is housed in the collection of the Hatakeyama Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Copies of this bowl are made to pay homage to it. It’s half- hazard application of slip, which gave it a blade of bare pottery that reminds one of a tea leaf, is its ‘shomen’ (a distinguishing mark that represents the front of the bowl). Its age is hundreds of years old with a provenance to prove it. It is considered an ‘O-Meibutsu’; a National and cultural treasure. Its depth of the spirit of ‘Wabi’ is rivalled only by the great ‘Kizaemon’. Here are examples of Kobiki.









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Tea Bowl Series — Mishima and Korean Celadon

'Mishima Oke' owned by Sen no Rikyu

‘Mishima Oke’ owned by Sen no Rikyu






13th c Henderson Coll Harvard Univ


There are types of Tea bowls that have stood the test of time and become so popular that they are practically ‘standard issue’ for many collections of utensils. Mishima is one of those types of bowls. But to do justice to it we must acknowledge the great contribution of Korean ceramics to the world of Tea. We shall start with a quick history of the development of Celadon and then move on to Mishima.

Celadon is a high fired ware (2345 F* to 2381 F*) whose glaze containing ferric iron oxide turns to ferrous iron oxide under those infernal temperatures. This glaze gives the porcelain clay a jade green color most favored by the Chinese and other Asian countries who encountered it. The first evidence of its manufacture is from the ‘Three Kingdoms’ period of Chinese history; but found its flowering during the Northern Song period (Longuan ware). Korea traded for these wares and developed its own style by inlaying different colored slips into scratched designs that shown through the milky green glaze (Sanggam). The Japanese soon followed; and each country has a distinct color variation of Celadon. China has more of an apple green hue, Korea favors a greyish green, and Japan uses bluish green to coat their porcelain. Some of the great masterpieces of the ceramic world were made during the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties in Korea. It is from this influence that Mishima found its footing. ‘Korai- jawan’ (Tea bowl from Korea/koryo dyn.) derives its name from this period. The Japanese scholar Fujio Koyama is quoted saying: “The quietness and subtlety of Korean pottery are said to show the quintessence of the Oriental spirit; its quiet elegance, its simplicity of form and style have been compared with the profound and exalted spirit of Zen Buddhism. It gives rise to a feeling of loneliness from which a mysterious fascination springs.”

Mishima is a city in Shizuoka pref. and boasts famous views of Mt. Fuji. It is the gateway to the Hakone and Izu peninsulas. Trade was taking place between Korea, China and Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. It is also the name of an Island that was a stop-off for trade near Yamaguchi which some scholars think is where the name came from. Mishima can mean “to see’, or “three Island”. ‘Mishima’ was first mentioned during the Eiroku era. It was known for its incised designs of white etchings of a dark clay body. a riot of flower stamps, squiggle lines, hash marks and other motifs like cranes, and symbols of abundance found decorating the bowls. In the city of Mishima there is a Grand Shrine of Mishima that was famous for publishing an almanac/calendar with bars of writing designating each day with its good and bad luck connotations. The bowls seemed to mimic these almanacs. Sen no Rikyu, a famous Tea master of the period favored these bowls and one in particular was owned by him. It is known as ‘Mishima Oke’ (bucket of Mishima). It s a ‘Mei-Butsu’ (historical and named/favored piece). It is a national treasure rarely seen.

There are many varieties of Mishima ware such as ‘hori-mishima’(carved), Ko-mishima(old), Mishima koyomi-de (calendar), Hagi- mishima and Karatsu mishima. If you have one or two in your collection then you can understand their appeal. They are so famous as a style that they can be used for any occasion and are a fitting addition to your tea bowl collection.

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The Seven Artistic Princilpes of Tea, Zen, …Wabi and Sabi

With in the world of Tea there is a synthesis of artistic principles that are felt, observed, and recognized but are rarely talked about. They have become infused with the Japanese aesthetic to such a degree that they are almost taken for granted. The awareness of these ‘Seven Principles’ were to be found in the practice of Zen/Chan Buddhism. These principles have been noticed and appreciated in China, Korea, and Japan for centuries. The kanji ideograms and words for these principles can be found in the lexicons of Chinese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Han’gul, and Korean languages, but it was in Japan and in The way of Tea that they have became important and consciously studied. They became the letters of an unspoken language using taste, touch, smell, sight, sound, and mood as the phrasing to create a poem of the senses and spirit. They can find expression in the tea garden, the room, the utensils, the food, and the objects used for the occasion. With this combination, the fleeting face of ‘Wabi’ can be viewed and the ancient spirit of ‘Sabi’ can be felt.

The Seven Artistic Principles of Tea, and Zen:

FUKINSEI– asymmetry, dissymetry, suggesting things that are irregular but still balanced; This irregularity can be found in the drip line of a tea bowl.



KANSO– Simplicity, with out gaudiness.not heavy or gross, clean, neat,fresh, yet reserved truthful; not ornate.The Hishaku ladle, the Chasen tea whisk, Chakin wiping cloth and tatami mats all embody this aspect.



KOKO– Austerity, maturity, reduction to bare bones, basic essentials, lack of sensuousness,refers to things aged, weathered, venerable. A stone water basin, an old stone lantern, the writing on the scroll in the tokonoma, an old well preserved tea scoop, the ceiling beams of bamboo smoked by cooking fires, an old iron kettle bring this quality to mind. It also hints at a partial definition of the word ‘Sabi’.








SHIZEN–Naturalness, artlessness, absence of pretense and artificiality. It does not mean raw nature but involves full creative intent- but should not be forced.unselfconsciousness; true naturalness that is the negation of naive and accidental. The flower arrangement is a good example. The movements in ones temae- procedure for making tea, the plants in the garden, the placement of roji stones set so naturally for foot fall that a blind practitioner can make their way through the garden to the tea hut with ease. The wooden pole in the tea room called a ‘tokobashira’ that is the corner post of the artistic alcove- ‘tokonoma’.





tokonoma from bluefield joiners

YUGEN– Subtly profound; suggestion rather than total revelation, things not totally revealed but partially hidden from view, shadow and darkness- hence YUGEN refers to the shadowed areas of the garden, an inaccessible island in the pond, (for the guests-) the mizuya; the scent of ‘ko’ rising from the hearth; old lacquer ware, candle light at night, the moon half hidden by clouds.






ashes incense



DATSUZOKU– Unworldliness; freedom from compass and rulers, freedom from worldly attachments, bondage and restrictive laws. It involves transcendence of conventional usage. It is often a surprise element, or astonishing characteristic. The Kaiseki meal and/or tenshin meal are examples of this since the guests are never given a set menu to view before the gathering begins so that the food and sweets presented are usually a delightful surprise. “Ichi-go Ichi-e” (one chance, one meeting) is a maxim that embodies this. The first presentation of specific utensils and their examination are part of this as well. The entire occasion of the tea gathering can have the anticipation and enjoyment of “A Delightful Surprise”.





SEIJAKU– Quietness, solitude, calmness and silence; the opposite of disturbance. In the Orient there is a saying that “stillness is activity”. This characteristic should be strongly felt in a Japanese garden (especially a wet garden from an Autumn rain). This inner peace should be shared by the hearts of host and guest. The tea room itself is the soul of this feeling; but with silence there is a smile and quiet attentiveness.




WABI— Transient, imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, austere, serene, beauty. Recognising a mood of solitude and spirituality. D. T. Suzuki stated that ” it is an active appreciation of the bueaty to be found in the simple and the humble. The aesthetic of poverty.” Deliberate simplicity in daily living. (as you can see it is a difficult thing to define).

SABI– Appreciation for the venerable, old, weathered shriveled, faded, ancient, damaged but lovingly repaired. Gold lacquer which mends the pieces of an old, previously broken tea bowl which gives it an elegance that it did not have when it was whole. The small tea hut of two to three mats only. Important, unobtrusive, (Also hard to define)


Korean Tea Bowl 3

tearoom 1




These Seven Principles were discussed at length by Dr. Lennox Tierney when he taught Japanese Art History at he University of Utah. It is from his notes and class lectures that my information has come. Many more investigations into these subjects can also be found on line. But these ’9 wells’ from which to draw one’s bucket from have no bottom.

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