Andrew Watsky and Louise Allison Cort: Chigusa and the Art of Tea

Watsky Chigusa cover

Chigusa and the Art of Tea

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2014

This innovative book narrates the history of a single object—a tea-leaf storage jar created in southern China during the 13th or 14th century—and describes how its role changed after it was imported to Japan and passed from owner to owner there. In Japan, where the jar was in constant use for more than seven hundred years, it was transformed from a humble vessel into a celebrated object used in chanoyu (often translated in English as “tea ceremony”), renowned for its aesthetic and functional qualities, and was awarded the name Chigusa.

Few extant tea utensils possess the quantity and quality of the accessories associated with Chigusa, material that enables modern scholars and tea aficionados to trace the jar’s evolving history of ownership and appreciation. Tea diaries indicate that the lavish accessories—the silk net bag, cover, and cords—that still accompany the jar were prepared in the early 16th century by its first recorded owner.

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