Antiques 8-29-09

A teal bowl from the fourth generation of the Raku family, Ichinyu 4, 1640-1696.  There is a lot written on  Raku and raku ceramics as the term is used in the West. The official Raku family homepage, in English is here. I am not sure I can add to what is written but as is the case with any piece there are details that don’t come through in a Wikipedia entry.

The box lid was written on by the leader of the Omotesenke head Jyoshinsai 1706-1751. I should note the date differs by one year from what you will see in English books. I took the date from a ridiculously large book that is like a Who’s who of the tea world that is a Japanese reference book. The writing says, hito iri kuro chawan yoko gumo to yu. The “to” is in katakana and the “u” in the last “yu” is long. I am unsure if the “yu” should be “iu”. It means: The bowl decorated with one brush stroke. My note. This meaning covers the “hito iri kuro chawan” part. It is typically vague, it could also mean “The bowl decorated with a one(1). The second part means: It is called a (sideways) cloud. My note.  Adding to the playfullness of the writing is the addition of the katakana “to”.

The path this bowl has taken to be bought by the dealer I know in Nara to be used in his 88th. year tea ceremony goes through small bits of tea history. The story as far as the Kawase family is concerned starts when the bowl was brought to the elder Kawase for an appraisal.  He, the father of the 87 year old Mr. Kawase who I go to to learn from  who I will now call Kawase the younger, was a well known tea connoisseur and on the committee that approves what objects were designated Important Cultural Treasures or Properties.  It was brought to him by his older sister. She had it because her husband’s father’s company was a consulting firm that specialized in advising  companies facing bankruptcy on how to turn themselves around and continue in business. The father in law got it as a gift from one of the companies he helped turn around as a thank you gift. The father in law didn’t have any interest or knowledge in tea bowls. He sent it to his daughter in law’s brother, the elder Mr. Kawase for an appraisal with the instructions that if it wasn’t a good bowl it was to be sold, if it was to get the appraisal and bring the bowl back. The bowl was of such a high quality the elder Kawase wrote on the lid of a new outer box. That box I don’t have pictures of as the younger Kawase is having it restored and didn’t have it when I photographed the bowl. The significance of having someone write on the lid is lost in the cultural translation from Japan to countries that don’t have calligraphic  traditions. Think of it as an endorsement writ large. The father in law would have known the bowl would be of the highest quality if he knew who had owned it before the person who gave it to him. It was owned by the president of the Mitsui company. The president of the Mitsui company was a sponsor of the Omotesenke school and other tea people during  the many valleys in the up down history of the tea ceremony. Mr. Mitsui, or what ever his name was, always had access to the best in tea tools. As I understood the president of the Mitsui corporation at the time of the “reign” of the seventh head of the Omotesenke gave support to the Omotesenke school. The bowl was sold upon the death of the father in law.  The bowl was bought by the younger Kawase this last week when it was brought to him by a dealer that knew his father had written the passage on the  outer box lid and thought he might be interested in it. The younger Kawase took it as a sign from his father that he wanted him to use it in the tea “party” he is gradually getting together for his own birthday next year. I will post some of the items that are being prepared in upcoming posts. It is really something to see an old school Japanese prepare for what I am sure has become an abbreviated process. Every aspect of the tea ceremony is considered, planned, discarded and considered again. The bowl I wrote about a few weeks or months ago, the Daibutsu Chawan, will be a part of that ceremony.  Even though the younger Kawase saw the appearance of the bowl in his shop as a sign from his father that didn’t stop him from bargaining hard on the price. The result? You can buy a house in most of the world, including Japan and a many parts of the U.S. for what he paid.

The preparation that goes into a tea ceremony is amazing. I have heard stories of the host spending days and days considering which vase to use. After deciding the vase spending equal time on which flowers to use and how to arrange them.

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