Although tea-drinking was introduced to Japan in the early Heian Period (794-1185), the Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu, was only formalised by tea masters in the 16th century. This complex ritual for preparing and serving tea according to specific etiquette (sarei) reached unprecedented levels of aesthetic refinement, in which each utensil used in the ceremony was essential to its proceedings. Tea bowls, kettles, caddies and fresh water containers were personally chosen by the tea master for their functional but also aesthetic qualities.
This tea caddy is an example of Raku ware, a type of pottery which originated in Kyoto and was highly esteemed by Japanese tea masters. It is thought that Raku pottery emerged from a collaboration between Raku Chōjirō, a tile maker, and Sen No Rikyū (1522–1591), the tea master who most profoundly influenced the Japanese tea ceremony. Rikyū preferred simple tea utensils, spontaneously potted ceramics and rustic surroundings over the antique Chinese teawares and lavish materials that were popular at this time. The first Raku tea bowls made by Chōjirō for the tea master set a precedent for hand-formed and low-fired teawares, which were used as the basis of the frugal wabi style of tea ceremony. The thick, black glaze on this caddy is achieved by using ground Kamogowa stone, traditionally sourced in Kyoto’s Kamo river. Removing the bowl from the kiln at the peak of the glaze’s melting temperature creates the lustrous surface.