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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Grant

Where is Korea's Finest Bowl?

It is ironic that Korea’s most famous tea bowl is currently “captive” in a Japanese temple. Even more unexpected is the fact that the “finest tea bowl in the world” started out as a poor man’s rice bowl. Such are the stories that surround Korea’s finest tea bowl – the Kizaemon Ido.

During “The Teabowl Wars” in the late 16th century, Japanese generals brought skilled Korean potters and pieces of pottery back to Japan. At that time, the wabi style (aesthetic appreciation of poverty) tea ceremony became popular, and is probably when the Kizaemon Ido came onto the scene.

The origins of the Kizaemon Ido remain a mystery, but its name was taken from an early Japanese owner, Takeda Kizaemon, a merchant in Osaka. The tea bowl was passed down to different owners before finally ending up in the Daitoku-ji temple in 1804.

There, the Kizaemon Ido remains secure “within box after box, five deep, buried in wool and wrapped in purple silk.” Reportedly, if you pay $5,000 you may get to see it, but you can only ever dream about laying your hands on it.

Soetsu Yanagi, author of The Unknown Craftsman, is often quoted for his description of the Kizaemon Ido:

“When I saw it, my heart fell. A good Tea-bowl, yes, but how ordinary! So simple, no more ordinary thing could be imagined. There is not a trace or ornament, not a trace of calculation. It is just a Korean food bowl, a bowl. Moreover, that a poor man would use everyday – commonest crockery.”

That is the essence of Korea’s finest tea bowl. What used to be a simple, imperfect Korean rice bowl is now a prized Japanese treasure of extraordinary beauty. Who would have thought?


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