Miyashita Zenji Kyo Nodate Tenmoku Chawan

Potter: Miyashita Zenji

Approximate size: W3.7″ by H2.7″ or 9.5 by 6.8 cm

Rarely encountered on the market are Miyashita Zenji’s works as a lot of it has been in collections, public and private for decades. He seemed to have focused on vases and larger works on which he created landscapes by the saidei technique. He did not make many chawan or other tea utensils. And among the works that are left this chawan has something that sets it apart as it is not seen that often. A treat.

Fired with a unusual tenmoku oilspot glaze, this is a nodate chawan. Nodate as you may very well already be aware of is the open-air tea ceremony, in which green is prepared and enjoyed outside – incorporating nature into the ritual.

A nodate gathering captured on photo during the last era of Japan’s feudal system

Tea time in Nodate follows the tradition of the seasons – in the Spring, the picnic is set in close proximity to a cherry tree blossoming; in the Fall, next to a palette of earthy colors whether it be a tree or autumn flowers, or simply a space in front of a beautiful scenery to contemplate the beauty of nature. Often the drinking of matcha is accompanied by the reading of poetry (haiku or waka) . 

I suppose it could be colloquially be said to be the Art of Japanese Tea Picnic. For nodate a selection of items is used, similar to the Tea ceremony held inside. Foremost differences lay in the size of the utensils, for better portability. A smaller size chawan is used, as well as other utensils that are appropriately resized (a chasen or bamboo tea whisk called a chabako when it is for this ceremony), that is noticeably smaller than a standard chasen.

As the eldest son of master potter and porcelain artist Miyashita Zenju (1901-1968), he went to Kyoto Municipal University of Arts and studied under the Living National Treasure potters Tomimoto Kenkichi and Kondo Yūzō. Early in his career he started working with celadon which is considered to be one of the most difficult glazes as it relies on shape and extreme control of firing to result in perfect pieces. He worked with and was inspired by artists like Yagi Kazuo, Suzuki Osamu and Kiyomizu Kyūbey. Miyashita was affiliated with Seitōkai and the Nitten group (starting in 1964), exhibiting in their annual competitions, which he won 18 times. His works have been included in exhibitions throughout the world and were acquired by major museums in Japan, the US and Europe. It is no exaggeration to say he was one of the most famous potters of Japan.

Works by Miyashita Zenji are held in the Freer-Sackler, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, and the Brooklyn Museum the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and of course the National Museums of Modern Art both in Kyoto and Tokyo among a host of others.

Works by Miyashita Zenji are held in public collections of museums worldwide. Foremost are his vases — while chawan are seldom seen

Aichi Prefectural Museum, Japan
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand
British Museum, London, UK
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, WI
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY
Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Ithaca, NY
Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, IN
Japan Foundation, New York, NY
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Japan
Kyoto Prefectural Library and Archives, Japan
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
Musée Cernuschi, Paris, France
Musée des Arts Décoratif, Paris, France
Musée National de Cèramique, Sèvres, France

Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo, Japan
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan
Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama, Japan
Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, Japan
National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, DC
National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
Newark Museum, NJ
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Portland Museum of Art, OR
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
St. Louis Museum of Art, MO
Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan
Spencer Art Museum, Lawrence, KS
Stiftung Keramion, Frechen, Germany
Worcester Art Museum, MA

The chawan bears the potter’s seal and condition is mint. Comes with the original high quality shiho san paulownia tomobako or storage box with kiln stamp, calligraphy on the lid and a dedicated tomonuno or tea-cloth.

His mature work was a modern embodiment of a classic Kyoto mode associated with the Heian period (794–1185). He applied delicate layers of color — reminiscent of multilayered court robes or decorated papers made for inscribing poetry — using not over-glaze enamels or glazes but clay itself, dyed with mineral pigments.

Sackler Art Museum