Clay Expression
The Art & Craft of Expressing Passion with Clay
Seramik Kraftangan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, PJ


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Japanese Tea Ceremony
the Tea Bowl and the Potter

A Japanese Tea Ceremony is the way of entertaining guests by serving meals and tea. Even for a complete meal of lunch or dinner, a cup of tea holds the important position of the “main dish”.

In Japan, this tea ceremony style began in the 15th century.  It was the‘”Samurai” period. Though the Samurais were antagonistic in politics, once they passed through the small entrance of a tea room, they would change from being enemies to friends.


This is why the entrance of a tea room is very small so that people cannot go in with swords. In the tea room, they appreciate and experience friendship, peace and harmony.

The Host shows his hospitality to guests by using proper accessories and decor like tea bowl, and calligraphy on the wall, bamboo tea spoon, etc…. Utensils in a tea ceremony have to complement the season and the situation.

In Japan we have four seasons. In spring, we like to use the motif of cherry blossom, plum flower, etc. In autumn, we use red coloured maple leaf; chrysanthemum flower. Normally the Host sets a theme for the tea ceremony based on the guests who would be attending it.


For example if the guests are old school friends, the Host would choose a motif related to school days or “old friend” for the ornament of the alcove.

There are different kinds of traditional tea bowls in Japan that include: Raku Demonstration on RAKU firing technique by Cindy Koh


Tenmoku, Bizen, Hagi, etc. They are shaped like rice bowls. Some of them are hollowed out on the inside base of bowls so that some tea residue is collected in the hollow after they finish drinking.

Why is this done? Because the Japanese like to admire and enjoy the tea bowl after they’ve drunk the tea! They enjoy the sight of a tea bowl with a little tea at the bottom of it. They also appreciate the colour combination of tea(green) and bowl.

A Tenmoku tea bowl made by...
Ayao Takayanagi, potter from Japan


Normally people recognise Tenmoku as a black piece with no decorative picture on it .Tenmoku is an ancient Chinese style of pottery. The Chinese drank tea in Tenmoku cups about 1000 years ago in China.

This Tenmoku tea bowl has a picture on it;   it has a pattern of dots inside the bowl as well. Ancient Chinese named this style “Turtle Shell Tenmoku” because the dot pattern looks like a turtle shell.

To make “Turtle Shell Tenmoku”, the  potter first applies black glaze,  after which she places the masking paper on it. The tea bowl is next dipped in white or brown glaze again. The masking paper is finally removed to reveal the picture.

In ancient China, Tenmoku was commonly used but it was thought too elegant for Japanese tea ceremony  after 16th century. Because the Japanese find beauty in imperfection,  Tenmoku was too perfect for them. So for a long time they seldom used it in Japan and only then, for occasions when  they served tea to nobility.

Having said that, now I believe Tenmoku can fit into a modern home and contemporary lifestyle. We can use it not only for tea ceremony but for everyday use.

Article by: Ayao Takayanagi, potter from Japan


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