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A Bowl Trusted for Peaceful a Sip of Tea

The sound of the tea whisk ceases, and a bowl of tea is placed before you by the host. The steam softly rising from the bowl, the faint aroma of matcha powdered green tea wafting through your nose. In the serene moment before taking a sip, there is always a tea bowl between the host and the guest.

Sen no Rikyu, who established the art of the tea ceremony, taught the principles of “Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku” (Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility). The host and guest connect their hearts, showing respect to everything, including the utensils and flower arrangements. They maintain a pure heart and a calmness that is unshaken by anything. There are various schools of tea ceremony, such as Omote-senke, Ura-senke, and Mushakoji-senke, collectively known as the “Three Sen Families.” The host prepares the utensils, arranges the flowers, and sets up the tearoom with this spirit. Among these, the tea bowl, used by the guest to enjoy the tea prepared by the host, can be said to hold the most significant place. This series will introduce the highlights of tea bowls, focusing on their history and craftsmanship. To begin with, I would like to touch upon the three representative types of tea bowls and their popularity.

Karamono Chinese tea bowls

Chinese tea bowls, known as “Karamono chawan,” were primarily made in China for the purpose of drinking tea. They are believed to have been brought to Japan around the end of the 12th century along with the introduction of Song-style tea culture. These bowls were especially favored during the period of the Shoin-cha style of tea ceremony (*2), which preceded the birth of the Wabi-cha style (*1). Typical types of these bowls include “Tenmoku,” of which the most famous are “Yohen Tenmoku” for their enchanting brilliance, and white porcelain and celadon characterized by their cool and refreshing hues.

As the tea ceremony spread from temples, where it was initially used in memorial services, to the warrior class, the wealthy class, and the townspeople, a trend emerged in which Karamono tea bowls were valued regardless of their provenance. Nevertheless, the aforementioned Tenmoku bowls continued to be highly prized. In the Edo period (1603-1868), tea bowls became more and more diverse with the appearance of sometsuke and aka-e, which featured vivid pigments and intricate designs. This increased diversity further expanded the appeal of these tea bowls. Many of these tea bowls are beautiful in their neat shape, thickness, and luster, and have had a strong influence on today’s Japanese pottery.

Title: Tenmoku Tea Bowl with a “Hare’s-Fur” Glaze
Country/Origin: Jian ware, China
Period/Century: Southern Song dynasty, 12th-13th century
Holder: Tokyo National Museum

Title: Tea Bowl, Named “Uraku Ido”
Country/Origin: Korea
Period/Century: Joseon dynasty, 16th century
Holder: Tokyo National Museum

Korai Korean tea bowls

The world of tea, where Chinese tea bowls were once most favored, experienced a turning point in the late 15th century with the appearance of Korean tea bowls. These bowls, known as “Korai chawan,” refer to bowl-shaped ceramics produced in the folk kilns of the Korean Peninsula, primarily during the Joseon Dynasty from the 14th century onward. Korean tea bowls were chosen for use in the tea ceremony in Japan because their distinguishing feature, unlike Chinese tea bowls which were specifically made for drinking tea, is that their beauty was seen to stem from their use as everyday tableware. The “Kizaemon Ido,” acclaimed as the finest tea bowl in the world, is a notable example of an unassuming bowl from an unknown folk kiln that tea masters found beautiful, thus elevating it to the status of a masterpiece.

With their generous and simple aesthetic, Korean tea bowls possess a natural beauty unique to everyday utensils. The incorporation of Zen principles and the popularity of Wabi-cha, practiced in austere and simple tea rooms, also boosted the appreciation of Korean tea bowls. As time progressed, tea bowls commissioned by tea masters began to appear. These bowls were also distinguished by various techniques and patterns, including Unkaku, Ido, Kohiki, Mishima, Goshomaru, Gohon, and others, each representing different styles and decorations.

Wamono Japanese tea bowls

By the latter half of the 16th century, Japan began producing tea bowls with a distinctive original style specifically for the tea ceremony. Early flourishing kiln sites include Seto (in Aichi Prefecture) and Mino (in Gifu Prefecture). Notably, Mino ware stood out for its decoration with a variety of colors and patterns, often featuring asymmetrical designs that distinguished it from previous tea bowls. This style greatly influenced other pottery regions, further enriching the diversity of tea bowls produced in Japan. This development will be discussed further in Volume 3.

During the same period, Raku tea bowls were being fired in Kyoto, and were highly regarded as tea bowls that reflected the ideas of Sen no Rikyu. Although tea masters had long been captivated by the beauty of Korean tea bowls, asserting that “tea bowls are Korean,” by this time it seems that Korai and Japanese tea bowls were equally popular.

The individuality of each tea bowl is rooted in its place of origin and history. Understanding the background of its beauty can enhance the experience of savoring even a single bowl of tea.

Title: Tea Bowl, Named “Furisode (Swinging Sleeves)”
Country/Origin: Japan, Mino ware, Shino type
Period/Century: Azuchi-Momoyama-Edo period, 16th-17th century
Holder: Tokyo National Museum

*1 Wabi-cha: A style of tea ceremony established around the 16th century which incorporated Zen philosophy. It emphasizes heartfelt hospitality in a simple, modest tea room, creating a humble and serene space for the gathering.

*2 Shoin-cha: A style of tea ceremony that developed around the 15th century with the advent of shoin-zukuri, a new architectural style. This form of tea ceremony valued opulence and elegance, often displaying Chinese utensils and paintings on shelves and alcoves.

Written by Fumiko Tokimori



The Handbook of Tea Ceremony Utensils. (Tankosha)

– Yanagi, Soetsu. Tea and Beauty. (Kodansha)

Tea Bowls of the Tea Ceremony, Volume 1: Chinese Tea Bowls. (Tankosha)

Tea Bowls of the Tea Ceremony, Volume 2: Korai Tea Bowls. (Tankosha)

Tea Bowls of the Tea Ceremony, Volume 3: Japanese Tea Bowls. (Tankosha)

– Ura-senke website,

– Yasuda, Tamotsu. “A Study of ‘The Way of Tea’ ― The Spirit of Harmony” Nihon University GSSC journal: the bulletin of the Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Nihon University.



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