DATE: 18th century (made)
PLACE: Japan (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Lacquered wood with gilt decoration

Tea was introduced to Japan in the early Heian period (794-1185) by monks who had travelled to China to study Zen Buddhism. By the 12th century a brilliant green powdered tea, known as matcha, had begun to spread to Samurai society and eventually to the rural communities. The Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu), as we know it today, has evolved gradually from a variety of tea drinking practices that became formalised through the influence of Buddhist thought, and each tea utensil plays an important role. This vessel was made in Japan during the 18th century and is known as a natsume because its shape resembles the jujube fruit (natsume in Japanese). Natsumes are used to store matcha, for the preparation of usucha, or thin tea, which is prepared using only one third of the normal amount.

Multiple layers of clear lacquer have been applied to this caddy’s surface to highlight the grain of the wood. Lacquer is obtained from the resin of the lacquer tree which is native to South-East Asia. Slashes are made in the tree to allow the sap to seep out, which is caught in a container and filtered several times through various layers of parchment paper. The lacquer colours range from clear to deep amber, depending on the length of this process and the pigments mixed into it, particularly cinnabar (red) and carbon (black).