Tomioka Tessai was at the forefront of embracing Japan’s traditional interest in Chinese culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tessai understood the centuries-long role of Chinese aspects in the formation of Japan’s culture. As such, Tessai embraced China as an intrinsic part of Japan’s identity. In that context, Tessai and his peers stylized themselves as ancient Sino-Japanese literati who espoused a combination of Chinese and Japanese cultural traits. Sencha tea was a key part of that self-fashioning. A type of tea ceremony imported from Ming China that took shape during the seventeenth century in Japan, sencha is more loosely defined than the more rigid medieval tradition of chanoyu. In Japan, the Zen monk Baisaō (1675–1763) is usually credited with establishing sencha as a core part of literati lives. Traveling around Kyoto in rags while loudly advertising his tea, the monk–tea seller Baisaō became a paragon of an untrammeled, pure understanding of Zen. As such, his legacy and persona were embraced by countless generations of literati in Japan—among them Tessai. The water jar, used in sencha ceremonies to provide cold water to replenish the kettle, prominently features Baisaō carrying his signature tea equipment.
Water jar with image of Baisaō
Tomioka Tessai and Kiyomizu Rokubei IV
Meiji era, 19th or early 20th century,
stoneware with ash glaze and underglaze iron brown
H x Diam (with lid): 18.5 × 16 cm (7 5/16 × 6 5/16 in); Diam (foot): 11 cm (4 5/16 in)
The Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, F2020.4.2a-d