Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)


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Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Drax » Sep 5th, '11, 09:12

Those TeaChatters that frequently look at Mago's store on eBay probably saw the Shiho Kanzaki offerings that went up a week or so ago (and are now on their second 'cycle' through). The pottery is famous, so all of the items are high-end, and I think the cheapest one (guinomi) started >$500.

Did anybody get anything? :D

Seriously, though, my question is actually about the practice of naming pottery. I think this most frequently happens with chawan -- where the potter will give the object a name ("Milky Way," "Eternal Blossom," etc).

I realized that I didn't know much about this topic. I was assuming the naming process was a function of cost (or, really, the 'fame' level of the potter combined with the importance of the creation). But it seemed that the ~$6,000 chawans that Mago is offering don't have a "name" -- unless if I missed it.

So after all that background, that's my question -- how does the naming of pottery generally happen?

If I understand correctly, it appears that sometimes monks will name pottery as well. How does that factor into this whole thing?
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Re: Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Chajin » Sep 5th, '11, 11:58

Drax wrote:Seriously, though, my question is actually about the practice of naming pottery. I think this most frequently happens with chawan -- where the potter will give the object a name ("Milky Way," "Eternal Blossom," etc).

I realized that I didn't know much about this topic. I was assuming the naming process was a function of cost (or, really, the 'fame' level of the potter combined with the importance of the creation). But it seemed that the ~$6,000 chawans that Mago is offering don't have a "name" -- unless if I missed it.

So after all that background, that's my question -- how does the naming of pottery generally happen?

If I understand correctly, it appears that sometimes monks will name pottery as well. How does that factor into this whole thing?


Names (銘 mei) are given to all sorts of items in sado, most commonly to chawan, chashaku, and tea caddies, but also to things like mizusashi (fresh water containers), flower containers, and kama (kettles). Names may be inspired by some impression the item itself gives to the namer, or might be taken from the maker's or owner's name, or from the place where the object was made, or from art, literature and poetry or historical events. For instance, there are many items named The Rikyu XYZ in reference to Sen no Rikyu having owned them. While mei are very often short and seasonal (Natsu no Yume [Summer's Dream]; Aki no Kaze [Autumn Wind]; Hatsu Yuki [First Snowfall]; Haru no Tsuyu [Spring Dew]), some mei are even in the form of poems, in which case they're called utamei (poetry names).

Names may be given by the maker, the owner, the iemoto (grand master) of a line of artisans or of a tea school, or by monks. The name is written on the storage box, along with the type of implement (eg: Seto chawan) and the maker's name. Being named by an iemoto or a Zen monk is particularly prestigious and increases the object's value, particularly when that person also writes an inscription on the box.

Tea people love named items. There are points during a tea gathering at which the head guest will ask the host questions about certain of the implements, most commonly the chawan, chashaku and tea container. The host chooses these items based on the theme of the tea gathering, so if they have a name this gives another dimension beyond their shape, style and decoration. For example, at a New Year's tea gathering you might use a red laquered thin tea caddy called Akebono (Dawn or Daybreak), or a chawan with a design of Mt. Fuji called Hatsuyume (First Dream; it is considered particularly lucky if one's first dream of the new year is of Mt. Fuji). For this reason, tea people often give names to the implements they themselves own, even if these implements are not highly expensive specimens from famous makers. In fact, in many tea classes one of the parts of practice is coming up with seasonally appropriate names for the chashaku.
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Re: Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Drax » Sep 5th, '11, 14:27

Cool, thanks, Chajin!

Is there anything that determines when a mei might be given or done? For example, I thought the potter would have done so, but it does not appear so in this case...
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Re: Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Chajin » Sep 5th, '11, 15:03

Drax wrote:Is there anything that determines when a mei might be given or done? For example, I thought the potter would have done so, but it does not appear so in this case...


In the world of super-exclusive tea items I know of a few cases. A maker might name his own piece when s/he's had a chance to examine the finished product. This is often the case when there's no hakogaki (box writing) by a third party, in which case the maker writes on the box the type of material (style of pottery, for example), the mei, the type of item (chashaku, for instance), and his or her own name. Or a maker or owner might ask the iemoto of a tea school or a Zen monk to name a particularly fine piece. This is what the kids are nowadays calling a "pretty big ask," as I understand it, because the namer is in effect certifying that particular piece, literally putting his (usually his) stamp on it (or at least on its box), and also substantially increasing its potential resale value. This certification (hakogaki) might or might not involve actual naming, and I have heard of dealers having the iemoto of more than one school certify an item, each time on a separate box, because some practitioners will only buy items relating to their own tradition of tea. It's all a bit of a murky business.

Back in the real world, items are often named when there seems to be some reason to do so. For example, my teacher has a previously unnamed chashaku that was left to her by her own teacher on his death, which she gave a mei that reminds her of him. Or, in more prosaic terms, an item might be given a name precisely because it's going to be used at a formal tea gathering and the host knows that s/he will be asked about it.

My view is that we're free to name our own stuff as we see fit. As with everything else in tea ceremony, though, this only represents one point of view; there are doubtless some practitioners who would say that only someone very high ranking should name a tea item. I'd counter that there are untold numbers of named tea implements floating around out there which have no record of who they were named by, so do with all that what you will.

Potters don't generally name every single item they produce. As to why a $6000--and therefore apparently very special--chawan might not be named, there could be any number of reasons. Most cynically, one might consider that by not naming such a valuable item the maker assures that the purchaser can increase its potential value further and faster by asking someone famous to name it and do hakogaki--not an unreasonable guess, perhaps, given that someone willing and able to spend $6000 on a tea bowl is likely to also be high up in the tea world and therefore in a position to ask such a thing. Or, more poetically, it could merely be a case of allowing the purchaser the pleasure of naming it herself. In either case, I would assume that such an important chawan would inevitably end up with a name, at least if it was purchased by someone who actually intended to use it.
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Re: Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Drax » Sep 5th, '11, 16:44

That makes sense, thanks again, Chajin!

I think that I would want to have a named item that had some personal meaning, whether I did it myself or somebody named/gifted it for me....
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Re: Named chawan (also recent Shiho Kanzaki offerings by Mago)

Postby Chajin » Sep 5th, '11, 16:54

Drax wrote:I think that I would want to have a named item that had some personal meaning, whether I did it myself or somebody named/gifted it for me....


That's always nice, of course, but I think it becomes less important when you have lots of tea stuff, which of course a lot of serious tea practitioners do, partly because then you can really focus on choosing items that are appropriate for every tea gathering. That might be another reason for such expensive chawan not to be named: someone who already has a large supply of items suitable for, say, spring might be less willing to make a big investment on something whose name means it's only appropriate for that season. But honestly, I don't know what considerations come into play for people who can afford such sums; I assume retaining or increasing in value is a big one.
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