People all over the world enjoy Japanese tea, but few of them have witnessed a proper Japanese tea ceremony — and seeing as a proper Japanese tea ceremony can last up to four hours, many probably imagine they don’t have the endurance. But Japanese tea culture holds up meticulousness as a high virtue for the preparer, the drinker, and even more so the craftsman who makes the tea ware both of them use. In the video above, you can see one such master named Shimizu Genji at work in his studio in Tokoname, a city known as a ceramics center for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Shimizu, writes the proprietor of pottery site Artisticnippon.com about a visit to his workshop, “throws a block of clay onto the wheel, creating the teapot’s body, handle, spout and lid one after another, all from the same block. It really is quite mesmerising and awe-inspiring to watch.”
Once he assembles these formidably solid-looking but deceptively light pieces, he dries them out over three days, a process that offers “just one example of the time and care invested in the crafting of exquisite Tokoname teapots.” Finally comes the seaweed, of which certain pieces get a layer applied before firing. Afterward, the traces left by the seaweed create a “charred” patterning called mogake.
We would surely welcome any of Shimizu’s products, or those by the other respected practitioners of his tradition, into our home. But as with all Japanese crafts honed over countless generations, the process counts for just as much as the product, or even more so. Take, for instance, Shimizu’s process as captured by this video: we appreciate the concentration, deliberation, and sensitivity shown at each and every stage, and the pieces of the teapot as they come into existence don’t look half bad either. But if we become too attached to the final result we’ve been anticipating over these fourteen minutes — well, suffice it to say that the master craftsman has a lesson in impermanence in store for us.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.