Joun Kanaya Kuriguchi-gama

Metalworker: Joun Kanaya

Approximate size: W 8.8″ by L 7.7″ by H 8.4 or 22.5.0 by 19.5 by 21.5 cm

This chagama or iron tea kettle for use in the Tea ceremony was made by the famous metalworker Joun Kanaya (1916-). The round body of this chagama was made from high quality iron ore and the lid, which is also hand-formed and decorated, has been forged from copper. The design coupled with the fine state of preservation make this chagama a real jewel. It has an ishime or stone surface texture and shrimp design ears on either side. The casting is exceptionally clear, showing the fine details such as the antennas, joints and fan-like tail on the shrimp. Which is in part due to when a casting was made. Molds deteriorate over time because of the extreme temperatures of the molten metal that’s poured into it and the process of removing the casting once it has cooled off. With a limited life span the details and decorations suffer as the number of times it’s used, as such the 40th casting will differ much in terms of quality from one of the first castings. Here it is an almost life-like scene of invertebrates scrawling over stony grounds in iron.

This kettle’s shape is called shinnari-kama, or true shape. It is round and originally had a rim like a belt running around its lower half. These kind of kettles were made in the tradition of kettles of the past. During the Edo period many new and different kettle shapes were created, but the potter’s earlier “true shape” remained the most popular.

If you are a tea connoisseur who likes to experience the taste of tea brewed in various teapots made of different materials ie. the stoneware pots of Tokoname or the porcelain kyusu of Arita yaki, you may prefer to use Nambu Tekki ware purely for the process of boiling water. It is said chagama alter the taste, or perhaps water boiled in a chagama tastes different from water boiled in a simple pan or mass-produced western teakettle.

Ishime surface texture

Bunbuku Chagama folklore

Raccoons and kettles?

A woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1889-1892), featuring the tanuki-priest Shukaku and his lucky Bunbuku chagama

One tells of an old man who helps a wild tanuki (a member of the Canidae family – better known as raccoons in the west), that is caught in a trap in the forest. The animal in return for this old man’s kindness transforms itself into a chagama or teakettle and stays with the man working together as a sort of sideshow act in which the animal walks a tightrope for money.

In another story a priest runs through a thick forest trying to catch a tanuki to eat. As he almost catches the creature it turns itself into a tea kettle. The priest is stumped and not having any luck hunting he takes the chagama back home. When the priest sees an opportunity to use his new kettle and puts it on the fire, the kettle starts to form paws, a long nose and pointy ears and transforms back fully to the tanuki!

There is no shortage of variations of the original folklore.

Chagama are made by making a mirror image of the intended shape and design in sheet metal which will then be used to create a mold (together with a counter part that creates the hollow interior), which will receive the hot molten iron. As mentioned, the production molds deteriorate during use and after a certain number of uses the details of the design will fade and eventually every piece, no matter how good is forcibly discarded. Decorations such the shrimp and ishime surface texture on this kettle are crisp and clearly cast indicating it was created early in the life cycle of the mold.

The creation of one cast iron kettle consists of over 80 processes all of which have to be mastered by the young craftsman, learning while they work. Today’s workshops have to be keenly aware of their customers needs and artisanal interests and are continually striving to create pieces which are relevant to modern lifestyles, while still staying true to their roots.

In the old days, cast iron kettles served multiple purposes in the home. They were used to boil water for household use as well as for making tea. The steam from the boiling kettle was also an economical way of providing extra heat and moisture to the home in the typically cold and dry winters. It is believed that water boiled in vast iron kettles absorbs the iron, a definite plus for those who feel their diets are iron-deficient.

This chagama is in excellent condition and has no inside or outside rust. It comes with signed paulownia tomobako or storage box, the rings with which the kettle can be moved to and from the hearth and a personal pamphlet from the artist. The interior has a rust preventing coating made of Japanese lacquer that indicates this kettle has not seen much use.

€600 + shipping cost