Introduction to Japanese table ware

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Unlike western tradition  Japanese table ware is a very refined and significant subject. It is so detailed that it requires one to really write a book alone about this.

Western table ware which is mainly white and consists basically of dinner plate, side plate, soup dish, salad bowl etc Japanese eating vessels consists of Bamboo, laquer, porcelain, earthen ware, natural leaves and other natural twigs depending on season and also glass.

Glass art has a relatively short history in Japan. The Japanese have historically viewed the transparent, hard material as foreign and somewhat exotic, and they have only recently made utilitarian glass part of everyday life. The Portuguese introduced glassblowing to Japanese craftsmen in the 18th century and, although Nagasaki glassblowers made highly prized vessels, larger-scale production only sprang up in the 19th century, laying the groundwork for top-quality cut glass in the early 1900s.

There have been influences from china like porcelain and other table ware’s that then were adapted to Japanese requirements and aesthetics. During the Haian period of Japan there were a lot a Chinese influences that then were adapted to its japanese cultural feelings and expressions developing also there own unique techniques.

Indeed how the vessels all have been found, introduced and developed though history in Japan is absolutely fascinating.

The eating sequence of a basic western meal would be a starter main and dessert were else japanese dinning consists of many more dishes in smaller quantity’s.

This is just very basic comparent to just introduce this subject and to get a basic understanding what the basic differences are between western plating tradition and Japanese.

When I am talking about japanese table ware I am referring to the table ware used in the Kyoto area.

I have worked in 3 star michelin restaurants in Kyoto and Tokyo that have firm roots in Kyoto and whilst working there you see the intense relationship between the chef, the seasons, the product and the plates and dishes used.

Just like the products are completely seasonal so are the dishes. In the summer lighter table ware is used to reflect a more delicate cooling summery feeling. Also the kind of leaves used are those that culturally will invoke and enhance your senses of the season.

The table ware itself always consists of bamboo, glass  porcelain, laquer and earthen ware and some leaves or natural vessel basically however the way the colours or how they are made differ in the way that it will fit to each season. Now this is the key to understanding the subject of the japanese table ware – that itself it contains also some spirit of cultural and historic and natural elements.

Working in Kyoto with these incredible chefs I have had the pleasure to see the chefes personal collections of incredible tableware. The chefs will have different vessels for different occasions, seasons and events specifically.

The chefs often collect vessels that are hundreds of years old which is only a set of 4 bowls that are the same and for a different table they will use a deferent set from his collection.

They will also have relations with various artist of there choice that will produce very specific and special pieces for them.

The chef of course would use the very special dishes for very specific occasions and customers and generally would have a mix of antique pieces ans well as new.

Generally in the west as well as in Japan the VIP tables would have a special selection.

Pottery is one of the most refined arts of Japan and I recommend anyone to visit an Artist and even take a class to just experience how special the techniques and artistry is.

In Kyoto there are many potter Artist and everyone has there own unique speciality.

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For a very serious Kyoto chef the choice of what table ware he would use reflects his artistic and authentic level as much as the food does. This is a very Japanese cultural aspect of appreciating every detail of a dinning experience. Usually a dinning of its highest calibre in Japan Kyoto can be 5 hours plus. The dinner does not just eat but it is a work that happens between the dinner and the chef.

Fow me personally just laying eyes of the fine japanese ceramics, especially tea ceremony ceramics brings a peace and very special sense to my inner hart and soul. For me the beauty of this is so hard to describe. I just want to explain that the ceramic process becomes so devine because it is a perfect relation ship between man and nature and if you like something devine and it expresses itself when the ceramists puts it in the kiln that is were the magic happens as something that emerges after it is burned is like a photograph of divinity and man at its best, that the ceramists did not have any power of as to how it will come out – that is the enigma of ceramics. It has a presence!

I find it healing, earthing, and balancing to see such ceramics and can find myself just looking at it loosing myself it it in the most positive way.

The tea ceremony tradition is strongly reflected in all aspects of Kaiseki and very much so in the table ware to.

Here are some examples:

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CHAWAN (Tea Bowls)
The chawan, or tea bowl, is, of all the tea utensils, the most familiar to Westerners and yet its significance is rarely appreciated. In its primary role as the direct connection between host and guest, it can transcend its function and take on a spirit of its own. As these bowls are used over time they mature and improve. They are ”functional art” objects which are meant to be held in one’s hand. Their tactile qualities are but one element in terms of the appreciation or connisuership of a chawan. How they function is just as important as how they look. One of their most crucial elements is the base, a part of the bowl which cannot be examined without picking up the piece & turning it upside down. A few other crucial features are the drinking lip, how it is formed as well as glazed, and the “chadamari” or “mikomi”, the inside lower half of the chawan where the tea is actually whipped and where the tea then settles when one is finished drinking.

chaireCHAIRE (Tea Containers)
Chaire are known in English as tea caddy or tea container. These small yet precisely crafted jars are used exclusively to hold the thick, highest quality powdered green tea known as koicha. Among the various ceramic utensils used for Chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony), chaire have the highest ranking, a major factor influencing their high price despite their small size.

mizusashi2MIZUSASHI (Water Containers)
Mizusashi are fresh water containers, and are one of the main utensils found in a typical tea “arrangement.” It’s function is to hold fresh water which is drawn with a bamboo ladle to the chawan where it is then used to clean the chasen (bamboo whisk) after it has been used to make tea. The same ladle is also used to draw cold water from the container to replenish the iron kettle after hot water has been drawn from it to rinse and warm the chawan as well as make the actual tea.


Hachi (Serving Bowls for Japanese Sweets or Kaiseki meal dishes)

Hanaire (Flower Vases of various sizes & shapes, including hanging types)

Chaki  (Small containers, often with a wooden lid but no brocade bag, used for usucha, [thin tea])

Futaoki (Kettle Lid rest)

Kogo (small Incense Container used in the winter months, Nov.- April)

Kensui  (Waste water Container)

Tokkuri (Sake Bottles)

Guinomi (Sake Cups)

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“I have dedicated the past twenty-four years working to contribute to the field of chadogu in Japan and throughout the world,” Milgrim wrote for an exhibition in San Francisco last year. He continued,“Using traditional materials and techniques, with one eye on the past and the other looking towards the future, my goal is to create works of art with a timeless quality. Works that simultaneously maintain their inherent function as chadogu, yet also capture a beauty that can transcend geographical and cultural boundaries and be appreciated by the uninitiated as well as the tea practitioner.”

A Potter from America by the name of RICHARD MILGRIM has a fascinating story as to how he became a ceramists in Kyoto. Through looking at his life we can look and learn, to have some insight into the world of japanese ceramics at its highest level.

The techniques and glazes used in Japan are so uniquely different to anywhere else in the world and are considered as some of the most refined art works in history.

Here is a short introduction to Richard Milgrim:

A native of New York, Milgrim first visited Japan in 1977 as a college student and traveled throughout the country, researching ceramics and Japanese culture. After receiving a degree in Fine Arts and Japanese Studies from Antioch College, Milgrim returned to Japan in 1979 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and simultaneously began a dedicated study of both Japanese pottery and the Japanese tea ceremony. He entered an apprenticeship with Iwabuchi Shigeya, Master Potter in Kyoto while also studying at the headquarters of the Urasenke Tradition.  Milgrim’s first one-man show was held in Kyoto in 1981. He then went on to study with Master Potters in the traditional styles of Hagi, Bizen and Mino over the next 3 years. In 1984 Milgrim acquired an abandoned house in the village of Yotsuya (near Kyoto) and built his own kiln. Dr. Sen Soshitsu, then the 15th generation Grand Master of the Urasenke Tea Tradition, named the kiln Richado-Gama, a truly rare honor as the Chinese characters are not only pronounced the same as Richard’s name in English, but each of them is inseparably related to who and what Milgrim is and does.

RICHADO-GAMA , name of Milgrim’s kiln in Japan
RI  from Rikyu (1521-1591 AD), Dr. Sen’s ancestor, considered the father of the modern day tea ceremony
CHA , meaning tea
DO , meaning earth or clay
GAMA , meaning kiln

Since 1985 Milgrim has exhibited extensively throughout Japan and worldwide.  In 2000 he established a second home & studio in Concord, Massachusetts. Over the past decade he has been “commuting ” between the U.S. & Japan expanding traditions in the field of “Chatou” (tea ceramics).

Three months to complete from planning. Documentary is not supposed to not chase scene scene , the number of days it takes absolutely. You have to finish edit from a large shooting data comes.The work of the first issue of TAKE SHOOT formed, I took a picture in full-length videos EOS MOVIE potter Sato烓氏. Canon 7D · 60D, 24-70mm lens used equipment is F2.8L, other stabilizer, shotgun microphone, pin microphone, compact IC recorder, Sony HD monitor shutter, tripod, PC set. Please see the earthen vessel creative process of ceramic artist Sato烓氏please.
Shooting / editing Kojima Shinya, steel / progression Yas friend Yasuhiro, Director / shooting Kazuhiko Yamaguch

Japanese master artists, Tsujimura Shiro and Suzuki Goro along with American artists Richard Milgrim and Jeff Shapiro, demonstrated throwing the tea bowl while discussing its aesthetic and philosophical relevance to the tea ceremony. This event was one feature of a weekend of events celebrating the tea bowl (March 12 – 14th) in conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts, Japan Society – Boston and the Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA


Professor Eric C. Rath – The importance of learning the historical and cultural context that gave rise to the aspects of Japanese Culture

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Eric C. Rath is professor of premodern Japanese history at the University of Kansas and a specialist in Japanese dietary culture and the traditional performing arts. His recent publications include Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2010) and “Revaluating Rikyū: Kaiseki and the Origins of Japanese Cuisine,” Journal of Japanese Studies 39.1 (2013): 67-96. His current research interests encompass local foods in Japan, tobacco, confectionery, and sake.

new Rath website photo

Eric Rath at the school of Mayul in Gande, Golok, Qinghai Province.

It is my pleasure today to introduce Eric C. Rath here on my blog. It is an absolute pleasure to know someone who can understand the special connections one has when one encounters Japanese culture from a very young age and how this becomes part of your life and you somehow want to express the appreciation for this culture in any way that you can throughout your adult life.

We share 2 things in common and that is the appreciation for Japanese food culture/ culture and  its history and having both spent some time in the Himalayas/Tibet.

I have never met anyone before that could perhaps understand this relationship that I have with Japanese culture and how important it is to learn more about the historic context that gave rise to this beautiful and outstanding culture in the first place.

Eric C. Rath’s work in Japan and his incredible achievements are far more developed then mine, however I really appreciate that I can learn and share the incredible information Eric is making available to us in english.

I have been a japanese chef in the western world for 15 years and what is lacking in our westernised japanese eatery’s is the cultural heritage. I feel it is of great importance to not just create restaurants that are completely removed from its own cultural essences as it is in most of America and the rest of the world at present.

In the 1970’s Japanese restaurants were adapted to suit Westerners as Japanese eating culture was very alien to the west in these day’s. All the chefs were japanese then but now you have so many different cultures working in japanese restaurants and nobody knows the actual culture which is very tragic.

Of course Japanese restaurants are aslo seen as a very profitable business and therefor we have had a japanese fast food to fine dining boom since the world wide successes of Nobu.

Generally there is a to wide of a cultural gap that is missing in our modern interpretations of japanese eatery’s here in the west in general and I would love to see more aspects of japanese cultural appreciation’s introduced here purely because this is the ultimate spirit, experience and essence of that which transmit something very special to people and of course if you have been to Japan you will appreciate what I am trying to say.

Japanese culture has many profound aspects to offer that are positive for all human’s to experience and learn about.

I strongly feel that the cultural aspects are so unique and beautiful as well as significant that they must not be lost and even if it is a modern interpretation of a japanese restaurant it should resonate certain key aspects inorder to be in harmony with the culture itself rather then be completely removed from its own original essence, history and culture.

To be clear I dont seek to replicate japan here in the west but to incorporate more culture and history as a concept.

It is my research and dedication to refine and develop restaurant concepts that can bring a more cultural experience then what we would normally see here in the west and to connect to the appreciation of the arts and culture for example: through space/ architecture/ art/ philosophy/ literature/crafts/ gardens/ values/ historical events and food etc.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 20.23.04Illustration from a Heian period (794-1185) book on imperial court ritual showing kamaboko served at a banquet.

Eric C. Rath’s is helping us to try to uncover the origins of Japanese cuisine and study more about the traditions and  history’s of the ancient eating cutlure of Japan. He has translated some extraordinary historical texts that would normally not be able to be accessed or read by just anyone and most importantly he translated aspects of these important writings into english aiding us to gain a much deeper cultural insight into the history of japanese eating culture century’s ago.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 20.11.49Ikamaryu Shikibocho (Court Knife Ceremony) Master/  Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Introduction and shot interviewe with Eric C.Rath:

Ni: What brought you to Japan and what made you so closely connected to the Japanese culture?

Eric: My father lived in Kyoto when he was in the military and my mother’s father traveled extensively in Japan and ended up dying there to be buried through the intervention of a close friend in Nanzenji Zen temple in Kyoto, so although I am not Japanese I have close family ties to Kyoto and Japan. I was unable to study about Japan until I went to college where I decided that if I really wanted to know the country I would have to visit there. One visit was enough to prompt me to enter graduate school to learn more. I earned a Ph.D. in premodern Japanese history from the University of Michigan, and en route I lived for several years in Yokohama and Kyoto studying language and doing research. Now I teach premodern Japanese history at the University of Kansas.
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Nanzen-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It began as a detached palace in 1264 but was repeatedly destroyed by fire and most of the old garden was lost. A new Zen garden, called the Leaping Tiger Garden, was made after 1611 and is a good example of the karesansui (dry garden) style. . It has a large sand rectangle enclosed by a buildings on two sides and a sloping bank on another side. The bank has rock compositions at its foot which can be seen as tiger cubs or as a turtle and a crane (animals associated with the Isles of the Immortals). Nanzenji is now the headquarters of the Nanzen-ji branch of Rinzai Zen.
Ni: What made you write your first book and what was it about? 

Eric: I was involved in theater and I had the opportunity to see a noh play during my first visit to Japan. Noh uses masks, elegant costumes, and chanted speech punctuated by drums and a flute. The stillness and strength of noh can only be compared to watching a Zen rock garden, which in its silence, space, and forms has secrets to convey if one watches. As a graduate student, I had a chance to study the basics of noh dance and music in the Traditional Theater Training program in Kyoto, which brings Western and Japanese actors, dancers, and enthusiasts like myself to study noh intensively for a summer. The experience prompted me to try to understand the noh’s historical development to comprehend the culture that created such a powerful, mystical, but hard to understand drama. My dissertation, which later became my first book The Ethos of Noh: Actors and their Art (2004), is a study of the six hundred year history of noh examining the ways that actors through the centuries have tried to explain the close boundaries between their art and ritual, magic, and mysticism.

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Ni: What made you particularly interested in Japanese food culture?

Eric: I was in high school when the movie “The Breakfast Club” came out, and there was a scene where actress Molly Ringwald eats sushi to demonstrate her sophistication. My more adventurous friends and I were accustomed to dining out if only to drink alcohol, and we decided we had to try sushi. I remember ordering it and being confronted by small beautiful pieces I had no idea how to eat. After observing our puzzled faces the owner of the restaurant mimed how to eat sushi. Chinese food had long served as an entry point to Chinese culture for me and after that first taste of sushi I learned that there was much more I had to discover about Japanese food.
Even as I wrapped up my project on noh theater, I knew that I wanted to do research on the history of Japanese food. While finishing my dissertation, I worked for about a year in a Japanese restaurant in Kyoto, chiefly as a waiter but occasionally performing minor kitchen tasks. Noticing the great drama that unfolded behind the counter where the chef sliced sashimi while talking with customers, I had thought to research cooking as a type of performance. I later learned that at least one eighteenth century author compared the meal to a noh play to describe how a fish had a starring role and the vegetables were minor players. But, when I began researching Japanese food history, I decided to try to uncover the origins of Japanese cuisine, which led to my second book Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan. The book describes the multiple artistic, religious and poetic meanings behind preparing and consuming food in premodern Japan.

Ni: What in your experience is the first initial attraction for western students to Japanese culture?

Eric: Many students are attracted to Japanese culture through manga, anime, films, food, and the samurai which have become part of our global culture. I hope that students taking my classes are able to learn the historical and cultural contexts that gave rise to these familiar aspects of Japanese culture and that they learn that there is a deeper level to these things and that they can uncover that hidden story through the historical method.

Some other publications include:


Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan. University of California Press, 2010.

Japanese Foodways Past and Present, Co-edited with Stephanie Assmann. University of Illinois Press, 2010. 

The Ethos of Noh: Actors and Their Art. Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2004 (Pb. 2006).

Articles and Chapters

“The Magic of Japanese Rice Cakes,” Routledge History of Food, ed. Carol Helstosky. NY: Routledge Press (scheduled for 2014).

“The Tastiest Dish in Edo: Print, Performance and Culinary Entertainment in Early Modern Japan,” East Asian Publishing and Society 3.2 (In press for 2013). 

“Kyoto Foodways,” Sabor: Culinair Magazine Voor Bon Vivants 3.1 (2013), 8 pp.

“Traditional Kyoto Vegetables,” Sabor: Culinair Magazine Voor Bon Vivants 3.1 (2013), 5 pp.

“Revaluating Rikyū: Kaiseki and the Origins of Japanese Cuisine,” Journal of Japanese Studies 39.1 (2013): 67-96. 

“How Intangible is Japan’s Traditional Dietary Culture?” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 12.4 (2012): 2-3. 

“Honzen Dining — The Poetry of Formal Meals in Late Medieval and Early Modern Japan.” In Japanese Foodways Past and Present, ed. by Eric C. Rath and Stephanie Assmann. (University of Illinois Press, 2010): 19-41.

“Mealtime at a Tibetan Monastery,” Gastronomica: Journal of Food and Culture (2010): 17-21.

“The Significance of Large Servings of Food in Japanese Cuisine” [in Japanese] for Kokubungaku: Kaishaku to kanshō, special edition on Japanese foodways, ed. Haruo Shirane et al. (2008): 278-82.

“Rural Life and Agriculture.” In A Companion to Japanese History, ed. William Tsutsui. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007): 477-92.

Noma has a new face

“In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture,
hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future

The design should never be in focus but like a delicate, white, clean plate present the Noma creations in the best possible way and be a subtle supplement to the experience.

The website was not designed to reflect the restaurant experience, as that would be impossible. The purpose is simply to provide the basic information.

We have strived to create a structure that is simple, relevant and intuitive. And by follwing our blog – “The wheather report” – it should never be static but dynamic as our menus and everything else we do in order to make a better experience for our guests.


While Rene was in London to do his pop up event in London Claridges his restaurant was having a new face lift.

Full article is in the by Thomas Ibsen