Appreciating Cast Iron Tea Kettles – Description And Appearance

Author;Photos: Zong Yue

Introduction

The Nambu cast iron kettle was allegedly invented in 1772 by the Japanese artisan Nizaemon Koizumi, a descendant of the family’s third generation. He made a relatively small kettle for steeping matcha, to which a handle was molded, and created the Nambu iron kettle. From this we can see that, in foundry, there is a close relationship between the Japanese cast iron kettle and the teapot used in chado, the Japanese formal tea ceremony, or way of tea. It is therefore appropriate to say that the iron kettle evolved from the teapot. Nevertheless, in the process of molding an iron kettle, such features as the appearance and decoration are devised at the very beginning. In other words, the kettle maker first contemplates whether to adopt a traditional kettle appearance and motif or to add new innovations. In fact, the appearance of traditional kettles referred to herein is closely related to the description and appearance of a teapots.

Teapot development in Japan, by origin, may date back to Ashiya and Tenmyo teapots of the late Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). The Ashiya pot features a protruded belly, demon mask relief for the shoulder ring ornament, mostly graceful motifs, and patterns in the texture. The Tenmyo teapot features bolus appearance, fantastically various textures, and fewer motifs. Through their development over the past hundreds of years, such traditional appearances and motifs have gradually formed certain brands and types usually reflected in iron kettle wares. Based on these features, this paper attempts to sort out traditional teapot descriptions and appearances as they relate to iron kettles and to provide essential information for appreciating the, art of the teapot.

Description and appearance of iron kettles – taking teapots as examples

In history, there were diversified and relatively established ceremonies or practices of tea serving, and so it was with the development of teapots. Generally, teapots can be classified according to three categories: 1. appearance or use; 2. motifs or characters engraved on the teapot; 3. origin or owner. Based on these categories, we will out the descriptions and appearances of iron teapots as follows.

(I) Classification by appearance or use

Shape of the character “眞”
Earlier Ashiya teapots had wider shoulders and the entire profile resembles the Chinese character This shape is also adopted for iron kettles.
Crane head
With a slim upper part, this iron kettle looks like a crane head.
Wider mouth
The mouth of this iron kettle is wider.
Opening mouth
The upper part of this iron kettle is an opening mouths
Grannr mouth
The mouth of this iron kettle resembles that of an aged woman who has lost all teeth.
Crown-like mouth
The mouth of this iron kettle is like a crown, with a slightly open upper part.
Bent mouth
The mouth of this iron kettle resembles wool scroll, slightly bent curves.
Bolus
The body of this iron kettle is round.
Cylinder
The body of this iron kettle is cylindrical.
Bulbous appearance
The iron kettle base appears slightly roundel and bulging.
Rising Sun
The iron kettle teapot body is naturally round.
Quadrangle
The iron teapot body appears tetragonal.
Reverse pan
The body of the iron kettle resembles a reverse pan. Teapots of this form were said to be the favorite of Sen So tan, a descendant of the third generation of Japanese tea patriarch Sen no Rikyu.
Standing drum
With wider upper and lower parts and a thin belly in the middle, the iron kettle resembles a standing drum.
Dog
The shoulder rings (kanntsuki) of this iron kettle look like a pair of a dog ears, and the entire kettle resembles a dog.
Fuji
The iron kettle body resembles Mt. Fuji.
Octagon
The body of this iron kettle is octagonal.
Dharma
In Japanese, Dharma can refer cither to Dharma, the Supreme Buddha, or an abacus bead. For a teapot, it refers to the latter. That also means that the appearance of the teapot or iron kettle resembles an abacus bead.
Car Axle
The body of this iron kettle resembles a car axle.
Nock
Nock is the notch at the bowstring where an arrow is placed. Nock shaped iron kettles resemble the bowstring of an arrow.
Beauty Face
The body of this kettle resembles a plump and attractive woman’s face Japan, a round woman’s face with a slightly protruding forehead, two full cheeks, ,and a low nose bridge is deemed as beautiful.
Cotton quilt
Metaphorically, the appearance of this iron kettle is compared to a cotton quilt, for its relatively wide body.
Cooking teapot
This pot resembles a traditional cooking utensil with characters such as “飢來飯” meaning “take a meal when hungry”) and “渴來茶” ((meaning “drink: tea when thirsty”) engraved on the pot.
Portable pot
This kettle has two distinct shoulders, like those of a man, slightly flattened but protruding.
Tail-drooping
This iron kettle has feathers on the bottom with an irregular gap.

(II) Classification by motif or character
Graupel
In general, graupels are fine, granular, and regularly arranged. They are mostly seen in traditional decorations of Nambu iron kettles.
Dragon swirling in clouds
As a motif on the iron kettle, a pattern of “dragons” swirling in clouds is drawn and molded.
Chrysanthemum and tung blossom
As a motif on the iron kettle, chrysanthemum and tung blossoms are drawn and molded.
Character “萬” on the waist
On the waist of this iron kettle, the character “萬” is written and molded.
Ten Virtues
The ten virtues of tea drinking are molded on the iron kettles: “god-like health preservation, nursing vital body organs, respecting and supporting parents, worry freeing and pain relieving, prolonging life, promoting sound sleep, avoiding catastrophic and vital diseases, receiving Gads favor, being protected by all patron saints, and receiving peace before the end.”

Other characters
Sometimes, characters such as “大講堂” (Auditorium), “佰侘” (Surprises) and “雷聲” (Thunder) are written and molded on the body of the iron kettle.

(III) Classification by origin or owner

Amita pot
The Amita pot is the favorite of Sen no Rikyu and was originally cast by the pot-maker and Jiro. Compared with the bolus pot, this iron pot features a slightly greater angle at the shoulders and art intentionally devised “loose” joint between the pot body and the bottom to appear dull and lonely, which is known as “feather falling” This appearance may sometimes be adopted for iron kettles.
Guksa pot
This pot was commissioned by Guksa Shun’ku, molded by Jiro, and used as a teapot.
Bandai
The Bandai pot is owned by Bandai Muneyasu, a tea master and contemporary of Sen no Rikyu, hence the name. Two lines are respectively drawn around the shoulders and waist, between which round pictures sach as Rui-za are drawn. This appearance can be often seen on iron pots.

Nomizo pot
This pot was owned by Nomizo family. The picture in the decoration is “monkey mending the moon.”

Conclusion
The above list describes the characteristics and appearances of a variety of cast iron teapots. Due to the sheer number of teapot varieties, omissions are inevitable. However, basic names and appearances are unlikely to vary significantly.

Valuable iron kettles were generally accompanied by packaging boxes, in which the descriptions of the iron kettles are sometimes included. Therefore, when we appreciate and identify iron kettles, we usually begin with the descriptions an the packaging boxes. After all, these descriptions contain the information of the kettle makers, including the basic descriptions and appearance of the iron kettles. From the descriptions, we can further appreciate the appearance and decorations. We can also determine whether the iron kettle inside the box matches the description. For example, the descriptions in the packaging box may say that the pot is a “bolus iron pot”, but the actual pot might be an octagon; or the descriptions may indicate a “crane head,” but the kettle inside the box might turn out to be a cylinder. It seems that the differences arc obvious, but it is possible to misjudge a kettle because of our inadequate knowledge of the descriptions and appearance of iron kettles or teapots, Thus, we must observe more closely.

Some descriptions of iron kettles are no longer available, because the kettles have no packaging boxes or the boxes arc broken from lack of maintenance, insects,or erosion over time. In this case, we can access die descriptions of iron kettles from their basic features arid appearances. For example, if we see the picture in the motif is “monkey mending the moon,” it must be a Nomizo iron kettle. Based on specific features and descriptions of the iron kettles, we can also further refer to related materials, for in-depth appreciation.

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