Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fame and the 700 Year Old Tea Jar

The "Chigusa", Antique Tea Jar

How did this modest jar get bestowed a name and why is it so famous that it has its own exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.?  Tea is the answer. 

On display at the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art, is a 700 year old tea jar named the Chigusa.  I went to its exhibit, the “Chigusa and the Art of Tea,” which is showing in the Sackler Gallery of Art through July 2014.  This big brown ceramic jar (16.5 inches tall) with no extraordinary decorative design or etchings was created in China as a mere storage jar during the Southern Song or Yuan dynasty, 1260 -1368.  [1

The jar was shipped to Japan where tea masters used it to hold loose leaf tea.  In Japan, the Chigusa held precious Tencha (sweet or new leaf tea) used for making matcha during the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tea ceremony in ancient times was reserved for royalty, high Samurai, visiting dignitaries, and influential tea merchants.  [2]  This humble tea jar rose to become one of the most revered objects of Japan’s chanoyu (art of tea) culture. 

We know this because not only did Japanese tea masters keep tea diaries detailing every aspect of their tea ceremonies, including centerpieces, flooring and the jars that held their tea, they named their tea pieces.  The first record of the Chigusa is in a 1586 diary.  Since then, records show that the Chigusa’s “surface has been admired and caressed by a who's who of Japan's cultural giants from the 16th century forward,” said James Ulak, deputy director of the Freer and Arthur M. Sackler galleries.  [3]  

By virtue of the tea fans who have used it, seen it and written about it over the centuries, the Chigusa has become in essence a celebrity tea jar.  If I name my own personal tea box and blog about it, will my box be as famous as the Chigusa in 700 years?  Here’s a photo of it…its name is Joey.

"Joey" the Tea Box


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