CHAIRE! – Japanese Tea Caddies


Chaire are Japanese small lidded ceramic containers for carrying tea (cha means „tea“ and ire is a word for „put sth. in“). Originally they came from 12th century China where this kind of container was used for holding medicine or valuable oils. But at least at the end of Muromachi period (1336–1573) they were used as exquisite tea caddies to contain the green tea powder during the tea ceremony. It is said that for some members of the ruling warrior class they were even more valuable than the own sword. Due to high demand and exclusive prices for the Chinese items and a change of taste, the first Japanese production was just a matter of time. Potters from the six old kilns, the oldest Japanese pottery production sites, developed soon an own language of forms according to their traditional technics. Since then a distinction was made between karamono – objects in a Chinese manner – and wamono – the Chaire in a Japanese style.

All pieces selected for the exhibition are from the last category of wamono made by masters from Bizen and Shigaraki in Japan. One is a rare work by the higly talented and far too early passed Bizen artist Masamune Moriyasu (Satoru) (1954-2006). Like Ueda Naokata IV. (1898-1975) from Shigaraki, Masamune was orientating on the old, rather simple pieces made in the Momoyama period (1573-1603) – the golden age of tea ceramics. The Ueda family is along with the Takahashi family, the oldest potter family in Shigaraki and largely responsible for preserving traditions, especially after the second world war. Ueda Naokata IV. was designated as Shigaraki’s first „Intangible Cultural Property“. Takahashi Rakusai IV. (*1925) – presented here with two exceptional pieces – is probably the most famous Shigaraki potter. He succeeded his father the third Takahashi who was designated as „Intangible Cultural Property“ by government. But also Bizen artist Kimura Tōhō (*1928) arose from a familiy traditon with a long history. The Kimuras were designated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) himself as o-sakunin (honorable craftsmen).

For more informations about the objects visit:


Wind in the Pine Trees – Writings by Zen Buddhist Masters


Since the 13th century writings by Zen Buddhist masters are called bokuseki 墨跡, “ink traces”. The two main aspects of the Zen Buddhist art of writing are expressed in the two Chinese characters: On the one hand, writing is a visible trace of language, that is able to remove meanings from any time-spatial distances. On the other hand, the ink, soaked in the writing ground, refers to the creative act of writing, whose process of movements can be “re-traced” in viewing the art work. According to Chinese art theory the second aspect is, moreover, also considered as a possibility to get an instant impression of the writer’s character and attitude. “Words are the sound of the mind and script is the picture of the mind”, says a quote by Han-time philosopher and poet Yang Xiong (53 b.c. – 18 a.c.), that reminded Chinese Author Guo Ruoxu in his 1080 published work on history and theory of art. Against this background, it was more or less self declared aim of Japanese Zen monks to visually express their serene mind that was liberated over years of meditation and to give this way proof of their “true self”. Due to one reason writing is sought to be one of the preferred instruments to do so: the ink-saturated brush detects seismographically the smallest change of the position of the hand, the pressure or movement and uncorrectably records even the slightest indecision on the writing ground. Thus, writing this way is less to be regarded as an artist’s free expression – and therefor also not to be mistaken as a type of “calligraphy” (the beautiful writing) – but more as a quasi-religious act.

The way of writing as a visual expression of the own inner self was particularly cultivated in the monasteries of the Rinzai school, what centered all modes of Chinese learning in Japan from the 13th to 16th century. Already the Chinese Zen master and founder of this Zen school Linji Yixuan (?–867) stressed the importance and efficiency of actively dynamic exercises as tools on the way to enlightenment. The Rinzai monasteries where thereby creating a context, which enabled the monks to make usage of poetries, painting and writing to legitimately express Buddhist insights. With the usage of writing also the transmission of textual knowledge was ensured as fragments and quotations from the rich canon of Zen Buddhist literature were reproduced as short aphorisms. These mostly own a deeper and often not obvious meaning on which the viewer is stimulated to reflect on. Beyond that, further meanings are often added through the pictorial qualities of the Chinese script and the painting qualities of writing with a brush. This way, most complex and multilayered artworks arise, which successfully detract from a clear categorization like a distinction between script and picture or between pictorial art and literature. As works of high formal and aesthetic standard as well as a medium of religious and epistemic contents, ink traces by Zen Buddhist masters enjoy high recognition since the 13th century not only within sacral circles.

On exhibit are eight works (including two circular ensô paintings) from the 20th century written by six different Zen masters of the Daitoku-ji temple, which can be viewed against this background of the 700-year old tradition described above.

Enjoy to discover further informations about each scroll and the meaning of their content on:!

The Colours of Bizen – Sake Flasks and Cups

After presenting a selection of Japanese tea ceremony utensils in the Opening Exhibition, the Spring Exhibition 2013 is focusing on another kind of serving a guest: the art of drinking sake.
Japanese rice wine is associated with rather companionable and informal gatherings. The chronicle Nihon shoki 日本書紀 from 720 records a banquet arranged at court in the year 485, where noblemen and women were drinking rice wine from cups floating on a river and composing verses. Until today the custom of pouring drinks for each other has further been preserved to pay attention and show respect. As „beverage of gods”, sake also has  its fixed place within festive ceremonies, for example as kagami-biraki 鏡開き – a ceremony that is performed at celebratory events in which the lid of a sake barrel made of sugi-wood is opened with a wooden mallet and the sake is served to everyone present.

In a more intimate circle sake is usually served in smaller containers such as the flasks shown in the display above. The current exhibition aims to present the colourful variety of Bizen ware – an unglazed stoneware directly affected by the kiln’s fire. Bizen ware is named after the former name of the province where the material for this type of pottery was won. The heart of today’s Bizen tradition is located at Inbe City of Okayama Prefecture. Around this region the clay is dug out from a layer located several meters deep beneath rice paddies. It is characterized by relatively high percentage of iron (>3%) and much organic material. Base on this and due to its characteristics as unglazed pottery, Bizen ware objects must be fired very carefully in a long lasting process that consumes an enormous amount of pine wood. Only the experienced potter’s knowledge of firing type, the kind of wood used, the kiln’s atmosphere, temperature and air’s circulation within the kiln chamber can bear the highly admired spectacular results of the combined natural beauty of fire and earth. It is the great secret of each potter, whose styles are most often very distinguishable despite their collective tradition. The attraction of each single piece evolves mainly from the firing process; a beauty that also particularly arises by reason of somewhat accidental and unexpected influences and forces. Due to these circumstances Japanese pottery artists frequently try to take the backseat using the Japanese term of yōhen 窯変 (lit. „kiln mutation“). Here, the attention is shifted from a more or less conscious individual freedom of the artist’s creativity process to a rather unconscious and to the dependency to nature subordinated way of crafting magnificent works of art.

Various Sake FlasksThe more intentionally exercisable forms of decoration developed altogether during the heyday of Bizen tradition in Japan’s Momoyama period (1573–1615) and come in different shapes: „rice cake“ (botamochi  牡丹餅) descibes open areas on the surface created by covering the pottery’s body with a chunk of rice cake-like clay. Ash glazes range from sesame-like, yellowish sprinkled areas (goma 胡麻) to variegated yellow, green and brownish ash drifts, generated by the regulation of air circulation in the kiln by using logs (sangiri 棧切り). By throwing ash directly on the objects (a technic misleadingly also called  sangiri), shiny grey molten areas on the surface are created. Stunning colour changes of the unglazed parts are caused by strong changes of the firing temperature and the so-called “fire cords” (hidasuki 緋襷) – burning straw cords fixed to the item causing red line marks.

The whole colour spectrum of Bizen type ceramics (as seen above) is ranging between bright orange, yellow, green, the entire variety of earthy brown tones, a shiny greenish or blueish grey and even black on some modern pieces. Furthermore, the textures show a wide range from unglazed, sandy clay, metallic glitter, all over covering ash glaze, rust-like crust, or splashes. Despite being small in size, sake flasks and cups shown in the current exhibition, bear a whole landscape (keshiki 景色) on their surface that invites the viewer’s eyes to have a walk through.
With this incomparable palette of colours and textures, Bizen ware has achieved its outstanding reputation within the Japanese pottery world and its distinctive characteristics of an unglazed stoneware which has been rediscovered, developed and preserved until today.

Opening Exhibition – Autumn 2012


The Japanese tea ceremony is possibly one of the world’s most elaborate ways of welcoming a guest. The four principles formulated by Sen no Rikyū 千利休 (1522-1591) for the ‘way of the tea’ in the words wakei seijaku 和敬清寂 could also be regarded as appropriate criteria for an art gallery:

harmony (wa 和), between guest and host and in the selection of art works;
respect (kei 敬), for humans and expressed within the attentive handling of the objects;
purity (sei 清), meant as cleanliness and order, but within the heart too, in the sense of sincerity;
calmness (jaku 寂), which should be understood here as contemplative viewing of the art works and the resulting insight and serenity.

Against this background, the gallery’s opening exhibition is bringing together a small number of carefully selected tea utensils. Among the exhibition’s highlights is a tea bowl by Shigaraki potter Ueda Juhō 上田寿方, who is much-admired and prized for his enthusiasm in following and preserving the traditions of Shigaraki pottery, an excellent incense case (kōgo 香合) by the twice Nitten awardee and later juror, Taniguchi Ryōzō 谷口良三 as well as a rare Bizen pottery tea caddy (chaire 茶入) by Masamune Moriyasu 正宗杜康.

But central to the idea of this exhibition is a single lacquer work by Yamazaki Geishū 山崎迎舟, the father of the well-respected lacquer master Yamazaki Mushū 山崎夢舟. The black flat tea caddy (hira-natsume 平棗) is coated with silver powder on the inside. The top is decorated with a festive maki-e ornamental knot, joining together three differently-patterned ribbons. These patterns are the very positive symbols of paulownia (empress tree), chrysanthemum, cherry blossoms, maple leaves and stylized branches of pine tree, as well as turtle shell and waves.

The depiction of a festive ornamental knot shall reflect on the occasion of our gallery’s opening exhibition the wish for a good long-lasting relationship for the future.

For further informations visit our exhibition on