During our recent trip to Japan, Anne and I visited one of our favorite museums, the Hatakeyama, which along with the Goto and Nezu Art Museums, contain wonderful collections of 16th–18th century teaware-related objects, assembled in the early 20th century by Japanese industrialists and housed in lovely buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens. Visiting these museums is one of those totally Japanese experiences during which you feel like royalty visiting a private collection.
The museum has a small teahouse in the corner of the display room. After spending time with the exhibition, which had a spring theme, I went to the teahouse and Anne surprised me by ordering two bowls of powdered green tea (matcha). She explained that she wanted to pick out the tea bowls so I could have one that related to the bowls I am currently making, which have a form inspired by the Raku bowls from Kyoto. The photo is of one of my recent tea bowls. Anne removed her rings (which one should do when handling fine ceramics) and picked a black Raku bowl for me and a complementary Ido-style bowl for herself. After eating the small sweet and drinking the tea, we expressed our admiration for the bowls and were told that they were by Tsujimura Shiro, a very well-known Nara potter, a show of whose work will be at Koichi Yanagi Gallery at 17 E. 71st Street, 4th floor, in New York City until May 22.
The Hatakeyama garden has a small house in which Fujita Totaro, a potter who makes fine Momoyama-style shino tea bowls, was having an exhibition. After spending some time enjoying the bowls and discussing the firing techniques with Fujita-san, he invited us to have tea. We had some traditional snacks and he made the tea for us in two of his tea bowls. The picture is of Fujita-san and me right after we finished the tea. On the subway after leaving the museum, we ran into a gentleman who had also been at the show and proudly held up a box containing a sake cup (guinomi) he had just bought from Fujita-san.
We spent part of our last day, April 16, wandering around the maze of small streets adjoining Tsukiji (the principal Tokyo fish market), which contain a myriad of small food-related stalls and restaurants. Small crowds were sampling tea at the teashops, which we learned were featuring the season’s first new tea (shincha). We joined the excitement of the first taste of the year’s shincha and sampled different versions at a few shops, each of which was eager to brew us a small cup. The shincha was from Kagoshima, in Kyushu, the southernmost part of the Japanese mainland. The best shincha is reputedly from Uji, near Kyoto, and arrives in May. We read that “In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the tokugawa shogunate halted all other traffic along the Tokaido highway when the convoy bearing the annual shipment of shincha from Uji made its way to Edo [Tokyo].” Old Kyoto, Diane Durston (2005)
We finally bought a few sealed bags of the shincha from a small shop. As the proprietor was making cups of tea for us to celebrate our purchase, an older man walked into the shop followed by a young man holding the gentleman’s seat cushion. The older gentleman immediately became the center of attention. A small table, a chair on which the cushion was placed, a container of crisp nori (seaweed), and a large ashtray were brought out. He was seated and tea was made. We never found out if he was an important customer, a famous tea connoisseur, or perhaps a relative, but we will always associate that image with our shincha.