Tenmoku teacups are truly beautiful: understated yet full of hidden detail, their glaze is a work of art. Their shape may be minimalist, but there’s nothing minimalist about the impact they have:
It’s no wonder that they are so highly prized! But how much do you really know about your collection of Tenmoku teacups? To many of us, they are as mysterious as the patterns they hide in their glaze! With that in mind, here are five fascinating facts about Tenmoku teacups:
- No Two Teacups Are the Same
Tenmoku teacups are not only prized for their beauty but for their unique variability: no two tea cups are the same. The glaze that covers each cup or bowl is made from feldspar, limestone, and iron oxide, and the combination of these chemicals mean that the quicker a piece is cooled, the blacker the glaze will be. During the heating and cooling process it is almost impossible to predict how the myriad of variables will influence the finished result of the glaze, leaving you with a teacup that is entirely, and impressively, unique to you.
- Tenmoku is Named After a Mountain
The word Tenmoku is derived from the Tianmu Mountain in Eastern China, where a temple is situated, thought to be the first place that iron glazed bowls were used for drinking tea. The name is broken down as follows: 天目Mandarin: tiānmù; Japanese: ten moku. In English the name means Heaven’s Eye, which is no doubt a reference to the beautiful views afforded from the mountain.
The Tenmoku tea cup style became popular in China during the Song Dynasty, and in China it is known as Jian Zhan, with Tenmoku being its Japanese name.
- Tenmoku Teacups Are Highly Prized
Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls are considered to be amongst the most highly prized types of Tenmoku tea bowls in the world, and they are incredibly sought after pieces by ceramic collectors. Only three Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls remain in the world, and they are all located in Japan. In 1918, one of these three tea bowls was valued at 168,00 Japanese Yen (thats around $1530) which means that, taking inflation into account, it would be worth $15.5 million today! Of course, whilst not all Tenmoku teacups will cost millions of dollars, it is a great indicator of just how prized these beautiful pieces really are.
- Tenmoku Teacups Come in Many Colours
When they were first created, the original Tenmoku teacups were produced in dark shades and with the darkest possible glazes. This is because it was felt that the darker colour of the cup was best suited to show off the lighter colour of the tea that was being blended within. Now, thousands of years later, darker cups in shades of brown and blue remain the most popular. But it is possible to purcase a Tenmoku teacup in many colours, including red, green, orange and even yellow.
- A Shared Chinese and Japanese Culture
Tenmoku teacups are an integral part of history and culture in both China and Japan. It is believed that in 1406 the Yongle Emperor (1360–1424) of the Ming dynasty sent ten Jian ware bowls to the shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu of Japan, where they became highly prized goods. And with their beauty, mysterious glaze, and charming appeal, it’asy to see why they attract everyone who sees them.