Monday, January 7, 2013

Face of tea bowls

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.


  1. So do you drink with the imprint facing you? I was just given a great matcha bowl as a birthday gift and I'm hoping to use it right:

    1. I’m sorry for my English and unclear explanation. I’m afraid to say that I don’t exactly understand what you mean on “do you drink with the imprint facing you?”. But, the imprint is not facing you when you drink the tea.

      Let me explain what I wanted to say in this post in a different way.
      1. Place the teabowl bottom side up
      2. Turn it and Find the direction that you can read the imprint (At this point, the imprint is often located at the left of the foot, but sometimes at right or inside.)
      3. Flip the bowl with vertical direction from you, not horizontal, and have the tea bowl back into the right position.
      4. At this position, the side facing you is the front of the tea bowl

      When the host serves tea, the bowl is facing you with its front, which means that, even though you can’t see the imprint at the bottom, it should be at left side of the foot on the bottom. It depends on school traditions, but with my school tradition we turn the teabowl 90 degrees clockwise before drinking. So, when you drink the tea, the imprint should be at the opposite side from you at the bottom of the tea bowl.

      As I said, this imprint rule doesn’t always work. This is just preliminary information. If I have not still answered your question, please feel free to let me know. Sorry of the long comment.

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