Friday, November 29, 2013

Hagiyaki – Beauty is in the Eye of the Tea Drinker

Hagi by Elovitz
During college, I lived for a year in Japan. I was given a special tea cup, a Hagiyaki. Hagiyaki is one of the most famous Japanese pottery types for the tea ceremony. There's an old saying in Japanese, "Ichi-Raku, Ni-Hagi, San-Karatsu (One-Raku, Two-Hagi, Three-Karatsu.)" which refers to the ranking of the ceramic tea wares made in Japan.[1] Hagiyaki is considered one of the best and it is nationally recognized as an art form. Just one tea cup can sell for approximately $400 (31,500 yen). A tea bowl by Hagi ceramist Miwa Kyusetsu can sell for $25,000.[2] 

But, beauty of the teaware is in the eye of the tea drinker, and my Western eye at the time was not ready to see the beauty in this traditional Japanese pottery.

License by: Kyle Donald
Oh! I wish that beautiful gift of Hagiyaki had not been wasted on my youthful ignorance. I tried to be polite when I accepted my Hagiyaki tea cup but what I was really thinking was, “this is the most awful cup I have ever seen!” It was a meld of melting colors and to my eye, crudely formed, like it needed to go back into the kiln after being reshaped properly. Back then, I could not understand why Hagiyaki was so prized. I have since learned that Hagiyaki is valued for “the roughness and asymmetries of form, texture and color.” Connoisseurs treasure “the accidents of color and texture resulting from changes in the clay and glazes during firing.”[3] The color of the Hagiyaki changes overtime with use, this is known as “the seven changes in Hagi.”[4] Hagiyaki is made of very porous clay which absorbs the tea and its tannins. The absorption changes the color and causes fine cracks in the glaze.  Hagiyaki enthusiasts enjoy watching and waiting for these changes to take place in their pieces.

The origins of Hagiyaki stem from Japan’s invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597. Japanese Warrior-lords brought back skilled potters from Korea and established kilns. The Hagiyaki style flourished with the rise of the cult of the tea ceremony in Japan, developed during the 15th and 16th centuries.[5]

Just as my taste for tea has matured over the years, so has my appreciation of Hagiyaki - even though I foolishly lost my Hagiyaki tea cup within months of receiving it. Due to my love and exploration of all things tea, I now can better appreciate the beauty and artistry of Hagiyaki. I wish I still had my tea cup so I could enjoy watching the seven changes of Hagi.

[1]  Veteran of Hagi continues rediscovery,  January 22, 2000, Japan Times
[2]  The Where and Ware of Hagi, July 3, 1988, N.Y. Times,
[3]  Id.
[4] Hagiyaki, 2001, JAANUS,
[5] The Where and Ware of Hagi, July 3, 1988, N.Y. Times,

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