To See a World in a Bowl of Tea
By Robert Yellin
for The Japan Times, Nov. 14, 2001
"Kokoro shugetsu ni nitari," which translates as "My mind is like the autumn moon," is a line from a Chinese poem expressing the Zen sensation felt strongly during the harvest season. Pure and reflecting without hesitation, the moon is a metaphor for our hearts and one that all of humanity could do well to learn from.
The same analogy can be made with a chawan (tea bowl). Held in the hands, irrespective of the holder's race or religion, the chawan offers an inward space to quietly reflect on the gift of each moment (in the Way of Tea, this is referred to as ichi-go ichi-e; a once-in-a-lifetime encounter) and of the people whom we share the moments with. There are four main principles that govern interaction with treasured tea utensils and people. They are harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei) and tranquillity (jaku).
Black Seto chawan (top) and Shino vase
I'd like to introduce one exhibition where you may see the finest chawan made by a Zen-spirited man. It is my hope that by finding the global spirit inside a chawan, and ourselves, we may come to truly understand the four principles and the "moon mind" in us all.
Once described as a sennin (mountain hermit), Yoshihiko Yoshida is exhibiting his "simply deep" tea utensils in Tokyo at the fine-antique shop Kochuukyo till Nov. 17, 2001. Yoshida lives amid a forest in the hills of Toki City in Gifu Prefecture. Located near his secluded home are the ruins of many kilns that fired the masterpieces of medieval Mino wares. I imagine that while walking by these kilns, looking for shards, some unseen force entered into Yoshida's soul like water silently seeping into sand. How else can one describe the feeling he energizes his pots with?
A friend of mine said of Yoshida's pots that "[his] work pares everything down to pure warmth and joy." I can't put it better than that. Take his Shino chawan, for example. They have no fancy glazes or deftly painted iron underglaze designs; they just "are." Full and organic like the moon, they quietly invite you to pick them up. The balance is perfect, the touch almost sensual, and the feeling of holding earth, water, fire and air combined is very grounding.
But getting to that point of effortlessly reflecting one's spirit into a chawan is a long and arduous path. I'm sure many times Yoshida, and most any potter, wonders what is the point of continuing to make chawan, anyway? They're just glorified ice-cream bowls, as many a Westerner might see them. Yet, if you want to get into the soul of Japan, and I believe that is what Yoshida wants to do, you have to silently understand the Way of Tea. Taken one step further, tea and tea utensils are borderless and can appeal to any human pondering the beauty and mystery of life.
That is why potters such as Yoshida are so vital for this country. They anchor Japan in these changing times and question the frivolous fashions that appear, and disappear, like the moon in a cloud. They put "soul" in our hands. Yoshida works in a few different styles, including the aforementioned Shino, aka-Shino (red Shino), shirokesho (white-slip wares), hai-yu yohen ash-glazed wares, and his stellar Setoguro (Black Seto).
Black contains all colors, and is prized in the world of Tea. Inside Yoshida's Setoguro are reds and purples that occurred after he rapidly cooled the pieces, plucking them from the kiln with long tongs at the height of firing. Some cooled to jet black, and it's not hard to imagine how mesmerizing frothy emerald-green tea would look inside. On many of Yoshida's works, small blotches can be seen near the base. These are called yubi-ato ("finger impression"), and this is where the potter holds the work while dipping it into a vat of glaze. They are not covered up because the process is a source of beauty for many pots.
A source of beauty.....the thought lingers in my mind, and I wonder where such a universal source might spring to touch all of humanity. Might it not be in a Yoshida chawan?
Kochuukyo, (03) 3271-1835, is located next to Nihonbashi Takashimaya, and the exhibition is on the third floor. Coincidentally, Yoshida's son Mahito is showing his work at Tobu department store in Utsonomiya, Nov. 21-27, 2001.
Written by Robert Yellin for
The Japan Times: Nov. 14, 2001
For more stories on Yoshihiko Yoshida, click a link below:
Yoshihiko Yoshida Exhibition Photos
Yoshihiko Yoshida - Sake Vessels
Yoshihiko Yoshida - Mino Ware