The traditional Japanese tea cups can easily be identified when placed side by side with their Western counterparts. One may think it is peculiar that Japanese tea cups do not have handles.
However, this trait (or the lack of it) adds uniqueness, aesthetics, and functionality to this traditional item.
There are two types of Japanese tea cups. Both do not have handles. One is called Yunomi while the other's name is Chawan. These two types of teacups have a rich history.
They are also great decorative and conversational pieces to display in your kitchen cupboard or dining table. There are more details about the Yunomi and Chawan that are interesting to know especially if you intend to purchase one.
1. Yunomi: symbol of minimalism
The Japanese minimalist philosophy can best be exemplified by the Yunomi teacups. The absence of a handle creates curiosity and interest in new users.
On the outside, it brings an interesting aesthetic, especially when matched with its fire-glazed designs. However, the straightforward design also adds functionality.
Because it does not have a handle, users are forced to hold the Yunomi teacup with both hands. Usually, they use their strong hand to grip the Yunomi's body while using their off-hand to support it at the bottom.
While it may seem uncomfortable at first, this style of holding a teacup allows the bearer to receive the warmth of the newly brewed tea.
Thus, the warm energy from the tea is not only transferred to the stomach but also the physical body as well. This is perfect for chilly nights, a setting that is prevalent in Japan's cold weather.
The straight-bodied design also allows the teacup to be stored easily. It can be stacked and won’t take an awkward amount of space. This is perfect for tea drinkers with limited space in their cupboards.
Choosing a suitable Yunomi design for you
The Yunomi tea cup or tea set is also classified according to its design. There are countless styles to choose from with a wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes. However, the Yunomi tea cups are classified into 4 pottery styles.
It is a Korean-inspired design that traces its roots from the 15th century. During this period pottery became an extremely competitive industry. Thus, Korean craftsmen were brought to Japan and the output was a mix of both Korean and Japanese cultures. The Hagi is commonly known for its cream-like glazed hue.
This type of Yunomi came about with the introduction of porcelain to Japan. Nakazato Muan (1895-1985), a well-known Japanese potter, made these Japanese tea cups and saucers famous by using the high-fired ceramic process. It is distinguished by underglaze iron paintings and exudes a classic look.
It is Japan’s pioneer high-fired white glazed pottery. You may recognize it because of its texture. It is covered by small pinholes referred to as “yuzuhada”. The citrus-like surface is finished by iron oxide brush markings from feldspar. This is a unique piece in terms of its look and feel.
Its name comes from a small rural town outside Tokyo where pottery is an industry. Classically, it is made up of a combination of brown with red glaze mainly brought by the clay material found in Mashiko.
It was revolutionized by the late Shoji Hamada who advocated more artistic freedom. Thus, a wider array of Mashikoyaki teacups is available.
2. Chawan: your tea in a bowl
The Chawan is technically a tea “bowl”. This unique piece was created to serve its function, drinking matcha. Matcha tea requires some stirring thus a wider opening is required.
With the use of a "chasen", a bamboo whisk, the matcha tea is stirred until smooth. The Chawan is widely used for rituals and tea ceremonies. This piece would certainly make a great conversational item and a must-have for fans of matcha tea.
Additionally, there is also a teacup called Matchawan. This piece is designed for drinking the powdered tea variety.
Its name often confuses new tea aficionados thinking that Matchawan is specifically made for matcha tea. Just remember that the Chawan is reserved for this role.
What makes collecting Japanese tea cups is that their unique look and function brings you back to history and in turn creates new ideas to talk about.
Thus, teatime becomes a session of sharing ideas and relaxation. If you want to delve a bit more into Japanese tea pots, check out this guide.