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 copper vessel was made in Japan during the 19th 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.
This natsume was made by Gotō Hokkyo Ichijō (1791-1876), a skilled metalworker who is credited with restoring the reputation of his family when he became the 6th hereditary master craftsman in 1805. From the 15th century, the Goto family were renowned as leading Japanese metalworkers, and makers and decorators of sword mounts, often receiving comissions from Japanese emperors and members of the court. The Goto crasftmen combined metals of various colours and created fine decoration on small surfaces using novel techniques, many of which were invented by the family and passed on through generations. This natsume was decorated using a technique known as Katakiri-Bori, or ‘oblique chisel work’. This type of engraving is used to create small shallow lines and was developed in Japan to simulate the movement of ink-brush painting and calligraphy. Katakiri-Bori enabled artisans to participate in the trend for a new pictorial approach to decoration and enabled them to distance themselves from the strict dictates of traditional Japanese metalwork.