A chawan is a type of bowl that is utilized for both preparing and consuming tea. There are various kinds of chawan used in East Asian tea ceremonies, and the selection of a specific type depends on several factors.
The origins of the chawan can be traced back to China, where it was first used. The earliest chawan in Japan were imported from China between the 13th and 16th centuries. The Tenmoku chawan, a type of Chinese tea bowl, was the preferred tea bowl for the Japanese tea ceremony until the 16th century. Until about the 15th century, Japanese tea was mainly consumed using this type of tea bowl. The Japanese term “Tenmoku” is derived from the name of the Tianmu Mountain, where Japanese priests acquired these tea bowls from Chinese temples to bring back to Japan.
As the custom of tea drinking became more widespread in Japan, the Tenmoku chawan became desired by all ranks of society, and the Japanese began to make their own copies in Seto. These copies often had a tapered shape, which was preferred by the Japanese.
With the rise of the wabi tea ceremony, the Ido chawan, a variety of Korean bowls mainly used for rice in Korea, also became highly prized in Japan. Korean bowls were a favourite of tea master Sen no Rikyū because of their rough simplicity.
Over time, local ceramics became more highly priced and developed, and the most esteemed pieces for a tea ceremony chawan are raku ware, Hagi ware, and Karatsu ware. Another type of chawan that became slightly popular during the Edo period was the Annan ware from Vietnam, which were originally used there as rice bowls.
There are many different types of Japanese chawan, which are tea bowls used in tea ceremonies. Each type has its own unique shape and name. Some examples include:
- “iron” bowl (鉄鉢形, tetsubachi-nari / teppatsu-nari)
- “wooden” bowl (椀形, wan-nari)
- Goki (呉記型, Goki-gata)
- half-cylinder (半筒型, han tsutsu-gata)
- cylinder (筒型, tsutsu-gata)
- go stone box (碁笥底型, gokezoko-gata)
- waist (胴締, dojimari-gata)
- rider’s cup (馬上杯 / 馬上盃, bajyohai)
- cedar (杉形, sugi-nari)
- ido / well (井戸型, ido-gata)
- Tenmoku (天目型, Tenmoku-gata)
- Komogai (熊川形, Komogai-nari) – formerly imported from the Korean port of Komogai/Ungcheon [ko] (now part of Jinhae)
- Silver tenmoku (銀天目茶碗, silver tea bowl made in the tenmoku style)
- curving lip (端反り型, hatazori-gata)
- flat (平形, hiragata)
- horse bucket (馬盥, badarai)
- clog/shoe (沓形, kutsu-gata)
- shoreline (砂浜形, suhama-gata)
- peach (桃形, momo-gata)
- brush washer (筆洗形, hissen-gata)
- straw hat (編笠, amikasa)
- triangular (三角形, sankaku-gata)
- four-sided (四方形, shiho-gata)
The Practical Considerations that Make a Great Chawan
When it comes to a chawan, or a traditional Japanese tea bowl, aesthetics aren’t everything. In fact, some of the most important considerations for creating an amazing chawan are practical ones. As such, potters must balance their artistic expression with the bowl’s intended use for making tea. After all, what good is a beautiful chawan if it cannot be used for its intended purpose? While some of these practical considerations are unique to ceremonial settings, many of them arise simply from the physical requirements of making tea.
Size and Shape
The size and shape of a chawan play a crucial role in making the perfect bowl for tea. A tea bowl should be neither too large nor too small, with a diameter between 11 and 16 centimeters (roughly 4.5 – 6 inches), depending on the shape of the bowl. This sweet spot is perfect for whisking and drinking tea comfortably. The shape of the bowl should not be so shallow that you are constantly splashing tea everywhere while whisking, nor so tall that you can’t reach the bottom with your chasen. The easiest bowls for whisking tea are perhaps the half-cylindrical Raku-shaped bowls, with high walls that keep the tea from splashing out, and a lower center of gravity that keeps them stable.
Weight and Balance
The weight and balance of a chawan are equally important to its size and shape. A well-balanced chawan should not be too heavy that drinking out of it becomes tiring, nor too light that it’s unstable while whisking. The conical shape and narrow foot of a Tenmoku-shaped bowl make it top-heavy and more prone to toppling over than a squatter Raku-shaped bowl. As such, they are often paired with special stands called Tenmoku-dai to keep them balanced.
Glaze and Texture: The Finishing Touches
The finishing touches of a chawan’s glaze and texture add a beautiful final layer of consideration. The lip of the bowl should not be too rough, making drinking from it difficult or uncomfortable, or that a cloth gets snagged on it while wiping it. The inside of the bowl should not be too rough either, lest it damage the delicate tines of the chasen.
Anatomy of a Chawan: A Closer Look
Understanding the anatomy of a chawan can help you appreciate the nuances and craftsmanship that go into making the perfect tea bowl. The cross-section of a typical Raku-style chawan shows some of the major parts and features found in many chawan:
- Kuchizukuri: The lip of the bowl, where the mouth touches
- Dou: The “torso” or walls
- Koshi: The “lower back” or transition from the walls to the base
- Koudai: The foot or foot ring
- Chakinzure: The part of the bowl wiped by the chakin (linen or hemp tea cloth used during a tea ceremony)
- Chasenzure: The part of the bowl rubbed by the chasen while whisking
- Chadamari: A small depression in the bottom of the bowl where the tea left over from drinking pools. This is not found on all bowls but is particularly common in Raku chawan.