Some of my favourite chawan – Part 1: Yōhen tenmoku chawan

It is already the end of April, one of my favourite months of the year. It’s the season of the cherry blossoms and hanami (花見, flower watching) in Japan and marks the beginning of a new fiscal year as well as a new semester at schools and universities. Talking about new years, April is also the month of Songkran, the traditional New Year festival in Thailand. And in my hometown Vienna, it is the season of Easter markets. The Songkran / Easter vacation is also the reason for my absence, but now I am back on my desk, ready for blogging. In this sense: Happy April, and if you don’t celebrate anything, just enjoy a good cup of tea with your friends. Cups of tea are also today’s topic, so let’s get started.

Chawan (茶碗), the tea bowls for chanoyu (茶の湯), the Japanese tea ceremony are loved by tea masters since matcha was introduced by the Buddhist priest Myōan Eisai (明菴栄西, also read as Yōsai,1141-1215) in 1191. Among the various tea utensils, it is the chawan that is closest utensil to the guest, who can appreciate the beauty of the chawan while enjoying a cup of tea.

Yōhen tenmoku chawan
Yōhen tenmoku chawan (Source: wikipedia)

Yōhen tenmoku chawan

No one can deny the beauty of yōhen tenmoku chawan (曜変天目茶碗, sometimes written as 耀変天目茶碗) of which is said that inside the bowl, one can glance at the universe.

It is the most valuable tea cup among the tenmoku chawan, Chinese tea cups from Song Dynasty (宋朝, Sòng cháo, 960–1279), called jian ware (建窯, Jiàn yáo). In Japan, these tea cups are called tenmoku chawan or short tenmoku, but also Japanese tea cups that are made in the same style as the Chinese ones are considered as tenmoku.

Yōhen tenmoku chawan is originally from Jianyang (建阳区) in Fujian province (福建省), but destroyed there for unknown reasons. There are speculations that they were destroyed due to their resemblance to a rainbow, which is a symbol for bad luck in China.

There are only three still existing tea bowls, all three of them are in Japan, where they are treated as national treasures. One of them is also treated as important cultural property of Japan.

The three still existing yōhen tenmoku chawan are keeping another mystery. Until this day, it is unknown how the pattern on the tea cups was created exactly, except of the fact that at some point, oil was used.

On the link below (which is actually a shop for Japanese arts and crafts, but there is also a blog on Japanese craftsmanship), further details on yōhen tenmoku chawan are given, and a potter who made it his mission to replicate the mysterious pattern of these tea cups is introduced.

Details on when and where you can see these chawan are listed on the homepage of Miho Museum. This year, until May or June (depending on the exhibitor), all three of them will be exhibited at nearly the same time in different museums. If you are lucky, you can have a closer look at one or the other yōhen tenmoku chawan (for further details, please click on the link. Description in Japanese. If you need my help, please feel free to ask in the comments section.)

What do you think about yōhen tenmoku chawan? And what is your favourite chawan?



今日庵 茶道資料館『茶道文化検定公式テキスト 1級・2級用茶の湯をまなぶ本』東京、淡交社、2009年。

Hiro “Yohen Tenmoku – World’s Most Precious Tea Bowls.” in: Oriental Souls. (2018-06-15). (Accessed 2019-04-25).

Miho Museum「国宝「曜変天目」三碗同時期公開 」(『Miho Museum』) (2019年04月25日確認)。

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