Many books say that the face or front of tea bowl is the side that has drawing motif or distinctive pattern of glaze. But, I don’t find much other detailed description about it. It seems there isn’t any absolute rule made. I myself am still on my training on sado, The Way of Tea. I often experience difficulty in distinguishing the front part of tea bowls.
It is easy if the bowl has a distinctive form (distortion, dent, form of opening rim), drawing or glaze pattern.
What if the bowl has the drawings all around the walls? I’ll consider that the front part is the side that has the main motif.
What about the case with no pattern or no distortion?
Check the imprint at the bottom. When you flip the bowl from your side, not side way, the imprint should be read facing the right direction, not upside down.
Some people say another rule. The imprint is usually located left side of the foot.
However, you cannot always determine the front basing on imprint shown. Some tea bowls don’t have any imprint at all. Some imprints are found in the middle of foot or at the right side. And also for the tea bowls with no drawing, you might want to use your own discretion when it comes to deciding which the front for the attractive glaze pattern is. A potter has to make the imprint before baking, but you don’t know how the pattern or design of glaze appear until it comes out from the kiln. In this case, the imprint rule will not be applied. I think you should remember this imprinting rule as preliminary information. This kind of ambiguous rule makes it difficult.
To conclude, I consider that the front is the side with distinctive design that the host wants the guests to see. If the bowl does not have a distinctive design, then you can follow the imprint rule. My understanding may vary in the future as I study and experience The Way of Tea more.