Tea Bowl Series— Ido

The words “Ido-Jawan’ makes those who have practiced The Way of Tea for a few years- smile and reminisce. Of all of the ceramic wares used by Tea people, Ido bowls are considered the essence of the Wabi spirit. A good Ido bowl shows the layers of time that accumulate around it- Sabi. The cracks, chips and brown lacquer repairs show that it has seen some things, and has endured much. There are three types of Ido: “O-Ido” (Large bowls), ‘Ko-Ido” smaller bowls), and “Ao-Ido” (greenish blue oxidized glaze different from the locquat yellow/ beige of the others). One of Japan’s great National Treasures is “Kizaemon”. It is housed at Daitoku ji Temple in Kyoto Japan. You can see it- if you have $5,000, are able to look with your eyes not your hands, and stay behind a barrier railing. The bowl is brought out with slow solemnity and concentration. It is contained in a series of nested boxes that are treasures in their own rite. Each wooden box has been signed with comments by leading national figures from Japanese history. When the final box is opened, one sees cotton padding generously holding the bowl in place. it is covered by a dark purple silk cloth. It is unwrapped and shown on the tatami matting. After viewing, it is slowly and carefully put back in its protective nest and solemnly taken back to its vault. If the Temple of Daitoku ji were to burn down (heaven forbid), instructions have been given that this bowl is to be saved first among everything else. For its sale price could easily have the entire temple complex rebuilt with plenty left over. Simply put, Kizaemon has no equal; it stands alone as an example in clay and glaze of the spirit of Tea.

Ido bowls have a distinctive shape. There is a small cup-like depression at the bottom called ‘the well’. They usually have five small unglazed circles on the inside of the bowl where small spheres of clay helped to stack the bowls for economy of space when being fired. The foot is usually speckled with glaze drops. The color is yellowish to creamy beige and blueish to green. Sometimes the glaze runs or crawls creating ‘imperfections’. The shape is slap-dash and quick. These were originally made as utilitarian food bowls. Scorch marks and mis-happen shapes are not uncommon. There is a freedom from pretense and affectation. They were not made for the Royal Court; they were made for everyday use. They served workers.

Ido bowls were first made in Southern Korea; and through the admiration of Tea Masters such as Sen no Rikyu, found their way to be prized as symbols of great trust and value. Muromachhi period warlords coveted these bowls and gave them only to vassals who proved their loyalty. They were used in the drinking of a communal bowl of thick tea called Koicha. At that time it was a new thing to share a bowl of tea with others and it fostered a spirit of brotherhood among the Samurai of that period. These bowls also promoted a quiet attitude and a level of sophisticated taste that is unmatched. To own an Ido bowl is a very special responsibility. To drink tea from an Ido bowl is a rare opportunity. To see one of the few Ido bowls from the Muromachi period is the chance of a life time. Nothing says ‘Tea bowl’ like ‘Ido’.

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