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The Practice of Tea from the Edo Period to Today

April 14, 2007–July 1, 2007
Gallery 107

The drinking of green tea had been enjoyed in Japan well before chanoyu, often translated as “tea ceremony,” solidified into a ritualized practice in the 15th century. During these gatherings, a small number of individuals would be invited to enjoy the hospitality of the host and discuss the objects on display in a rarefied setting, leaving the concerns of daily life behind.

Wares used for the serving of tea or a light meal, such as water containers, kettles, dishes, drinking bowls, caddies to hold the powdered tea, and other utensils, were avidly acquired and highly prized. Equally admired as part of the ritual were purely decorative elements such as prized calligraphy samples or ink paintings that were often hung in the tokonoma (alcove). In Edo period Japan (1615–1868), the tea ceremony provided a forum for appreciating and collecting these works of art. Items displayed and used included objects from China, Japan, Korea, and, beginning in the 17th century, the West. Some of these wares, passed among aficionados as gifts or bought for high prices, took on such fame that they were referred to by nicknames. In time, three different styles of tea service emerged. The formal manner was developed by the Ashikaga shoguns (1336–1573) and included items imported from China. Semiformal wares featured refined Japanese items or those imported from Korea. Asymmetrical or flawed objects, often with imprecise decoration, are the hallmarks of the informal mode.

The Practice of Tea includes tea wares from all three modes dating from the 10th through the 20th century. Also on display in the same gallery is another celebration of Japanese craft and design, Kamisaka Sekka’s A World of Things woodblock print series from 1909 to 1910.

Oribe Ware Ewer. Japan; Momoyama Period, 1573-1615. Gift of Robert Allerton.