Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics


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Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby JBaymore » Feb 24th, '13, 11:47

I had posted the following (below) on another potters-specific forum in response to a couple of questions people there had about the "imperfect" forms that seem to pervade much of Japanese ceramics and also how Raku wares and Tea Ceremony are connected. I thought some here might also find it of interest. So here is a copy of the posting:

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As a matter of fact, I am doing the keynote lecture at the New Hampshire Art Educators Association annual meeting that is being held at the Currier Museum of Art ( http://www.currier.org/nowonview.aspx ) that is being held in conjunction with the"Lethal Beauty" exhibition there of Samurai period weapons, armor, and other artwork. A good part of this presentation will tend to focus on this very subject, as I tie together the centuries and centuries of the martial state and civil strife with the development of the arts of the period.....particularly ceramics.

It takes a semester-long 3 credit BFA art history course (History of Japanese Ceramics) for me to actually trace the development and evolution of the Japanese ceramic arts from the proto-Jomon period to contemporary work, and the impact that the Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu) had in the midst of this development cannot really be understated. The evolving nature of Chado (The Way of Tea) in Japan had a profound impact on the broader cultural tastes in pretty much all of the arts, not just ceramics. However, because of the pre-eminent role that ceramic objects had (have) in Chanoyu, particularly the Chaire (Tea Caddy) and Chawan (Tea Bowl), the art of ceramics was profoundly impacted by the changes in "tastes" in what was (and still is) considered "proper" Teawares (Chadogu).

The short story (yeah,….this is the really short version) on the connection between Raku and Tea...................

In the time leading up to what we might think of as the current "modern" tea aesthetics, the various Daimiyo (Feudal Lords) were pretty much in a constant state of civil warfare and were vying for political power and position. Really,from the beginning of the Yayoi Period (400 BCE) with the influx of new iron weapon wielding peoples into Japan supplanting the old culture, through the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 cementing the relatively peaceful Tokugawa Shogunate….. Japan was in a constant state of overt civil war and under what amounted to martial law (or even what might be called anarchy). Basically 2000 years of civil strife! That fact had a PROFOUND impact on Japanese cultural development that affects the underpinnings of Japanese culture even to this day.

By the 1580s an upwardly mobile guy named Hashiba Hideyoshi had risen from a simple warlord’s servant to Samurai warrior to General in Oda Nobonaga’s armies, to finally THE leading power figure (not Shogun….but Kampaku) in Feudal Japan who had more or less "unified" Japan (not completely... but that is the kind of material for the undergrad course).

Eventually Hashiba was given the Samurai-class family name of Toyotomi……. the name most know him by today. Once this happened, he “slammed the door” on anyone following in his footsteps… making it unlawful (impossible) for a commoner to become a Samurai anymore, and also outlawed commoners from bearing swords (or any weapons). In this, he basically finalized the developing formalized Class distinctions of Japan sitting below the Imperial House……. Samurai, Peasant, Artisan, and Merchant…. and above the Eta (“untouchables”).

Since the Imperial House was basically a puppet figurehead of the State at the total mercy of the Samurai, the Samurai ruled the land in the name of the Emperor.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was known for wanting to put his poor commoner (non-Samurai class) origins behind him and, once rich and in power, he was prone to totally ostentatious displays of wealth. He was always trying to show how powerful and cultured he was to everyone around him..... particularly the rival Daimiyo. His, and hence others in powerful positions, approach to Chanoyu was to use the most precious and opulent settings and utensils possible. It was all about “showing off”.

His Chado mentor/teacher was a particular chajin (Teaman) known as Sen no Rikkyu, who was a student of another great Teaman of the period, Takeno Joo. Takeno and Rikkyu both found the ostentatious tea gatherings of Hideyoshi and his cohorts and the use of absurdly expensive Chadogu to be very much an "affected"stance, and in Joo’s and Rikkyu's opinion, unbefitting the Zen roots of a lot of the developing Tea Ceremony philosophy. The “peak” of this pretentious craziness was the Kitano Ochanoyu, or “The Great Tea Ceremony at Kitano” in 1585.

So as a reaction to all of this grandiose posturing of the Daimiyo with all their finest imported Chinese Chadogu and solid gold objects and tea rooms, Rikkyu started to promote the use of more "everyday" common and rustic objects as THE proper way to select the settings for Tea and the objects used in the Ceremony. It was a turn of the viewpoint to the internal, both in the view toward the value of traditional Japanese-produced objects, as well as a focus toward the more spiritual (but still actually non-religious) aspects of a tea experience. He moved Tea away from a outwardly focused “posturing”approach, and toward a “interpersonal relations” and “being totally in the moment” approach. A move from extroversion toward introversion.

In addition to being a Tea Master, Rikkyu also eventually became a "designer". He began to not only select and promote objects that he thought were superior Chadogu....... he also began to make some objects and also commission pieces to be made to fit his tastes and ideas. His views at this time had a profound impact on the nature of Chanoyu. Tearooms shrank in size from HUGE halls in elaborate Daimyo castles to specially constructed rooms that were based upon commoner’s huts (but still constructed with the utmost in craftsmanship considerations). Rikkyu greatly favored things like the common cheap rice bowls found in Korea for use as Chawan.

Rikkyu approached a roof tile maker in the Kyoto area who made some of the rooftiles for Hideyoshi’s castle, and had him produce a new type of Chawan specifically to his specifications. Roof tiles in Japan at that time were hand-builtand the ridge-line tiles and eaves tiles were often highly sculptural figurative works featuring Shinto and Buddhist dieties and icons. Chojiro’s father had emigrated to Japan from China, and he was a Sancai (Japanese….sansai ……three color lead glazed earthenware) potter. So the lead glazing and earthenware firing process were well known to Chojiro before he produced the new style of Chawan for Rikkyu.

In a sense, while he worked with clay, Chojiro was really a sculptor, not a potter. So this tilemaker, Chojiro, was very familiar with hand-building and sculptural techniques…..one of which is carving and modeling work from clay. So it would seem that a “comfortable” forming technique for Chojiro to make these new bowls for Rikkyu would naturally tend toward the basic forming by modeling the rough shape of the bowl…. what we’d maybe call pinching a basic thick form…….. and then further refining by carving the thick form into the very light weight piece necessary for proper Chanoyu. That is the core technique for forming a Raku Chawan.

The tea wares made by Chojiro were, to Rikkyu’s specifications, very quiet and unassuming. Deliberately rustic by design. The very lowly low-fire earthenware process moved these pieces far away from the Chinese wares formerly in favor of the various Daimyo and developing upper-crust Merchant class of the time. Yet within their seeming simplicity at first glance, upon careful inspection, the variations caused by the hand carving forming process and the simple primitive firing process caused subtle variations in the form and glaze surface that could take many viewings to really understand. This type of object fitted the contemplative aspects of Rikkyu’s new Chado focus well.

Originally this work was called Ima-yaki (“now pottery”) ….because it was something totally new. But because of the great reception given to these sculpted earthenware bowls lauded on them from Rikkyu and his many followers, Hideyoshi soon granted Chojiro the use of the characterfor “leisure” or “contentment” as a designation for the new types of wares he produced and also as a family name ( 楽). That character is pronounced “raku”, and was a part of the formal name of Hideyoshi’s castle, Jurakudai Palace. That Raku family name and ware type has now passed down unbroken for 14 generations.

Joo, Rikkyu, and Chojiro’s ideas and work in the mid to late 1500s are the advent of the teaware (and other artwork) tastes that are known today as “wabi-sabi”, and the Tea Ceremonies based upon its tenets known as“Wabi-cha” or sometimes “Sooan-cha”. Wabi-sabi is the finding of deep beauty in the inherent and inexorable deterioration of time on absolutely everything and the formal appreciation of the rustic, unrefined,and imperfect.

This aesthetic approach has pervaded much of Japanese ceramics from the Momoyama Period until today, and hence the focus onthe “imperfect”, the asymmetrical, the unassuming, and the unrefined forms one finds in many ceramic pieces since that time and even today. Materiality figures in here heavily also; ceramic material exhibiting the genesis of earth and fire working naturally together. The wabi-sabi aesthetic greatly fits a world-view born of centuries of warfare, sudden violent death, the Samurai’s fatalism, and a formal Shinto religious background that focuses on the natural events in the world (in Japan….typhoons, earthquakes, and fires), and the Buddhist belief that desire is the root of human suffering.

Hideyoshi was the warlord that ordered his vassal Daimyo to invade Korea (and then his plan was to also take over China). Aside from grandiose attempts at power, this plan was also devised to cause the various warlords “under” his rule to be tied up financially and to have their troops occupied elsewhere…. thereby minimizing the threat to his own power from any plots that might hatch against him. This was the time also known as “The Pottery Wars” …when Hideoshi’s generals captured whole villages of Korean potters and brought them back to Japan to create “traditional” Korean wares for Chanoyu use. Many of these potters founded the Kyushu and southern Honshu potteries that have great favor today …. like Hagi and Karatsu.

Eventually (1591) Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikkyu to commit seppuku (hara kiri …. stomach cutting…….. the Samurai’s ritual suicide method). A death with Samurai honors…. but a death nonetheless. No one knows for sure why……… there are no good documents that reveal the facts behind it. But likely it was because Sen was gaining political power and influence that threatened Hideyoshi in some manner. Tea Ceremony was a powerful cultural practice that extended throughout all of upper Japanese society at that time both within the Samurai class and also the developing and powerfully rich Merchant class that had strong ties into the “Southern Barbarians” (Nanban….. the Westerners who had started trade with Japan). And one has to wonder if Rikku’s focus on the “common” types of objects and setting was a bit of a sore point between the former commoner warlord and his Tea Master. Hideyoshi wanted nothing to do with an association with “common-ness”.

Japanese history is deep. Tradition being a very powerful force in Japan to this day, the traditions developed in the mid 1500s continue to influence Chanoyu and other aspects of Japanese culture and artwork. The three major schools of tea (Chado) in the world today, Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, trace their roots directly back to Sen no Rikkyu himself. The most prized native origin teabowls for Chanoyu continue to be Raku wares, which command pretty astronomical prices.

Hope that helps to put things into some context for you.

(Gonna’ put a >>> © 2013- john Baymore all rights reserved <<<<<on this posting…..might use some of it somewhere later.)

best,

.............john

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So....... hopefully that info is of interest to some TeaChatters too.

best,

.................john
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby rdl » Feb 25th, '13, 18:12

thank you john. concise and informative. that's equally hard to do.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby futurebird » Mar 23rd, '13, 10:42

I have always found ironic that a style of teaware that was conceived as the antithesis of "showing off" now very much is a way of showing of. In our time precision manufacturing is in expensive, the very things that once denoted fine workmanship and great expense (smoothness perfect symmetry) now mean exactly the opposite.

I wonder if a modern Joo and Rikkyu would decided to purchase plain white bowls from IKEA like these:

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Because today that's what a "humble" bowl looks like. You know it only cost $2 or less. It isn't showing off.

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Yet this humble bowl drips with connotation of great wealth, rarity and exclusivity. I don't think many modern eyes have to work much to recognize its beauty.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby ethan » Mar 23rd, '13, 11:20

futurebird, I wish you were correct w/ "many modern eyes...would recognize...beauty".
For 17 years I have been selling special & rare handwoven silk brocade from Laos & Thailand & Burmese jade jewelry & figures carved by hand. I am regularly dismayed by how many people are not impressed by beauty.
Last Xmas season I added ceramics to what I sell. More people were "comfortable" purchasing pottery, but most found $15 too much for them to spend for a beautiful, well-made, unique cup.
Teachat makes me feel less alone as one who aspires to appreciate tea & teaware, but because I try to sell to people who are not inclined to care as well as those who look for.... I am reminded how relatively few people care about much of what we discuss here.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby futurebird » Mar 23rd, '13, 11:35

Well, I think you do have a point. Though here in NYC I think most people would know that they are "supposed" to like the second one better... because it's more "artistic" --
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby AdamMY » Mar 23rd, '13, 13:21

futurebird wrote:Well, I think you do have a point. Though here in NYC I think most people would know that they are "supposed" to like the second one better... because it's more "artistic" --



I am not so sure about that, there are plenty of stories among teachat members where people all over the world just do not get certain aesthetic appeals of certain styles of teaware. Possibly the most heard comment about Hagi Yaki is "It looks like it was made by a 5 year old" yet somehow when you hold the right Hagi Yaki piece, you can not comprehend how something so rough and for lack of a better word imperfect can seem so perfect.

This is a slippery slope, but look into the Japanese term "wabi-sabi." I have read quite a bit about wabi-sabi but even though I know I have pieces that demonstrate it to some effect, I won't claim to understand it, at least not in its entirety. But from what I read what they cared about most was that it made good tea.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby futurebird » Mar 23rd, '13, 14:32

Is it really that hard to understand? (maybe, maybe) Perfection isn't the only way to find beauty and peace. It it were then beauty would be a boring thing. Really the beauty of nature is all about wabi sabi... simple trees are beautiful because they strive to be symmetrical but the wind and rain and soil and life itself makes them more interesting than that.

I don't know maybe it is much more complex and I just have an oversimplified view of it. I think it's possible to make concepts with foreign origins and names seem much more inaccesible than they really are. I know many don't agree but I think everything can be translated... eventually.

It's like when you make a bowl by hand from clay, you try as hard as you can to make it perfect and symmetrical and smooth. Or when I paint I really try to copy what I'm seeing exactly... but we are more like trees than plastic injector machines. So the whole process of how you made the bowl or painting is still visible, --so it's not just an object but a stament made by another living human. And in addition it says something about how you see the world, and that basically art.

Looking at an old bowl is like being able to travel trough time and talk to a person who died long ago.

That said I'm not a huge fan of modernism in art. Like the abstract expressionists, they just don't really reach me. It's annoying when are is more about showing how you can break the rules than it is about just trying to make something good.

Making good beautiful things is hard. Making smooth symmetrical things is hard, in an handmade object the imperfections heighten the value of the "perfections" --they remind you that a person did this, effort skill training... all of those things.

Ok I'm rambling. :oops:
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby AdamMY » Mar 23rd, '13, 14:52

When you first read about it, it does seem like it is an idea of "beauty through imperfection" but that is almost painting it with too wide a brush. And sadly a lot of this has a very hard time being conveyed through photos, but I know I can, and I am sure many of the collectors of Japanese Ceramics on the forum, can hand you a variety of pieces, and without really saying anything to the viewer after they handle it and turn it over a few times, they can really start to tell the truly beautiful ones from the down right duds.

Although when saying that between a given dud, and a given star, I can't really point out one being more perfect or imperfect than the other, in any very coherent fashion, it is something that just has to be sensed through all the senses together, coming together in a way that is rather hard to explain.

Then of course there is another level to the pieces, where you personally view them so much more highly because you yourself have had all sorts of great experiences with the piece. Case and point, the very first two pieces of Hagi Yaki I ever bought, making them the start of my decent into this deep and wild world of ceramics are basically identical, having come from the same run of pieces, although the glazing is slightly different and that is how I can always tell them apart. The main point is any time I reach to use just one of them, I always go for the first one I got ( which then prompted me to get the other). Is the second one I got inferior in any way? No, in fact for viewing the color of the tea it is slightly better as its entire interior is lighter in color, but I just have that much more of an emotional connection to the first piece that I want to use it over the other one. ( In fact when I have a guest over and we are using those cups, I always insist on using the very first one I got, and give the other to my guest).
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby debunix » Mar 23rd, '13, 16:20

Thanks, John, for such a great post, and starting a great conversation. I'm reading it while enjoying a session with puerh, a tea whose origins seem to be in practical storage and transport requirements that imbue it with a wonderful wabi-sabi-ness of its own, brewed in my simplest unglazed shiboridashi, and drinking from an irregular, incompletely glazed chawan that I absolutely treasure.

I think I grew up with elements of 'wabi sabi' impressed on me especially from my father, who would point out things like the tree that had fallen over but whose roots still held firm and that continued to shade the pasture from down low--and that made it a favorite with the local cattle; or the heirloom tool with a handle that had been reshaped and polished by thousands of hours of use. I wonder how much of that esthetic was formed by his time in Korea during his military service?

I love the little tiny desert flowers that a ranger once described to me as 'bellyflowers'--you have to lay down on your belly and look at them at eye level to appreciate them--because their form tells you a lot about the environment that shaped them, and invites awe at the perseverance of life.

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Bellyflower by debunix, on Flickr

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and I just love it when the maker's marks is as literal as on these pieces

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Shunko-En Bizen Yunomi - 02 by debunix, on Flickr

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Fingerprint? by debunix, on Flickr

It brings a connection to the maker of the ware that is especially powerful because it contrasts to so much else that is more polished in our built environment.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby ethan » Mar 23rd, '13, 17:52

debunix, What you wrote reminded me of something. Your words "perserverance of life" brought me back to beautiful Boracay Island, Philippines. There I liked small trees rooted in a tiny bit of soil between the rocks that were being doused by the salty waves of the sea. The growth though small & plain seemed beautiful to me = nature near its best. "Bonsai" trees that are the work of people trimming down nature is not as special to me, though the leaves may be healthier, more colorful, etc.
Handmade ceramics dealing w/ glazing that cannot be totally controlled or predicted seems tied not only to the maker, the potter, but also to "The Maker".
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby NPE » Mar 24th, '13, 11:54

As far as I can see there are many layers to wabi-sabi:
Firstly, as it is quite evident from looking at the Ikea bowl, perfection (in the sense of the absence of any irregularities) means that the item is also perfectly bland. There is nothing for the eye to latch on, nothing to pique any interest and invite closer inspection. I remember a jade bangle with a lot of inclusions being described as 'endlessly entertaining' - a handmade bowl by a master potter can invite hours upon hours of being looked at, every millimetre inspected and still leaving the viewer with the desire for many more such encounters.
The problem with many people who cannot seem to appreciate imperfection is that they do not have the patience to engage in a conversation with an item that is so 'talkative'. They skim the surface of life, constantly making small talk but never really knowing anyone for real - for them the Ikea bowl is perfect in every sense of the word.

Then there is the fact that in order to make an 'imperfect' bowl there has to be an immense amount of skill involved in making something that looks natural - almost grown by itself - that still manages to fit all the requirements. It would be easy - child's play, as it were - to just take a lump of clay, roughly shape it and declare it wabi-sabi. The truth is that in order to make something imperfect that is still something that is perfectly suited to its intended purpose has to be incredibly difficult and demands years of experience. But if one does not know the intended purpose and has no way to find out how the item functions, then it has to be very difficult to appreciate this aspect.

The third part is that wabi sabi is also very much influenced by the idea of impermanence. To take this idea and to convey it through a functional item that by its very nature is bound to be more permanent than the viewer is something that I find amazing. Drawing a picture of a wilted flower is easy (if you can draw). Most people will get what you are aiming at. But to convey such an idea through a teabowl or other ceramics - that is art! However this part of wabi sabi, whether viewed as a Buddhist or Christian (memento mori) idea, is probably the most difficult part of being able to appreciate it. Only very few people are not scared of thinking about impermanence - death and dying are very much taboos in Western society. I think that only a dwindling minority is willing to start contemplating this during tea time.

And this is only a small part of the whole...
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby ethan » Mar 24th, '13, 18:13

Thanks, NPE for new ideas to contemplate while enjoying my tea & staring at the teaware.
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Re: Comments: relationship of Chado, Raku, and Japanese ceramics

Postby tenuki » May 4th, '13, 21:46

Someone I know sells misc handmade stuff at RenFaires. Her work is fabulous. She tells a funny and telling story about people nowadays. A curious browser was inspecting a handmade horn comb at length. Finally she asked "Is this real or did you make it yourself?"
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