Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tenmoku - A Closer Look

Tenmoku tea bowls are characterized by a thick glaze on the surface (both inside and outside) of a bowl.  Tenmoku bowls had its origins in China, where Japanese monks had visited Chinese temples (experts think monks, during the 13th century, had visited Tian-mu temple in China, hence the name 'tenmoku') and bought back these tea bowls (and I imagine some Chinese tea as well) when they returned to Japan.  Subsequently, these bowls were very popular with the Japanese and they started to make their own versions of tenmoku.

I had purchased a few tenmokus.  The top 6 pictures are Japanese tenmoku bowls while the last bowl at the bottom is made in China, where such bowls there are called Jian ware.  

I would like to share two observations of these tea ware :

1.  The glaze on the bowls were thickly applied and highly reflective.  The presence of iron oxide in the glaze may cause, intentionally, beautiful  patterns on the glaze after the tenmoku had gone through its firing process.  Depending on the heating and cooling times of the firing (baking) process,  these tea ware will have very unusual and artistic results.  Pix 6 shows an oil spot glaze, known as yuteki.  The pattern of the glaze on the last pix is call 'rabbit fur or hair' design characterized by very fine lines resembling the coat of a rabbit.  Readers, please click on the pictures to have an enlarged view.  

2.  Some of the Japanese tenmoku tea bowls comes with a metal rim.  These rims are usually made from silver.   You can clearly see these metal rims in pix 4 and 5.  Why a metal rim? My best guess is the metal rim was made to protect the very fine and thin temoku bowl rim which may be easily chipped off during handling of such bowls.  Rim chips may make drinking of tea from such bowls unpleasant and will affect the overall aesthetic appearance of these bowls.  I found the installation of these metal rims to be high quality and it does not in anyway, affect me when I drank tea from such bowls.  Almost unnoticeable.  

Did you notice the tea bowl holder in the first 3 pix?  This is a tenmoku dai, a holder to rest the tea bowl.  These dai may be made from wood or lacquered in this case.  I suppose some of these tea bowls have such narrow bases or bottoms, and may cause the bowl to topple to its side, spilling in its contents if one is not careful and a tenmoku dai will help reduce such accidents.  

Drinking tea from these tea ware are very popular in China and Japan.  These tea drinkers attest the tea would taste better in terms of aroma and taste.  Moreover, the aesthetic factor will be turned up  few notches when such bowls are used in a tea session.  

Time to drink my pu erh from a yuteki oil spot tenmoku.  

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