Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Kyusu

A few days ago I sat down to write a review on my Fukugata Kyusu. I thought I would do bit of research, Google "kyusu," and provide some history on this wonderful and unique style of teapot. Several hours and a trip to the bookstore later, I had almost nothing. I could find hundreds of websites that want to sell me a kyusu, but none that could tell me much about them.

The only interesting information I found came from Artistic Nippon, which states that there are different types of kyusu, the two main ones being yokode (side handle) and ushirode (rear handle). This was confusing, as I thought that kyusu were side-handle teapots. I checked several Japanese to English Dictionaries, and it would seem that kyusu just means teapot. Yokode is actually two words, yoko (side) and the particle de (at), and ushiro means rear.

Since the folks at Artisitic Nippon seemed to know their stuff, I sent them email asking them to tell me more about yokode kyusu. Toru Yoshikawa was very helpful and wrote back in just a few hours. Because I prefer to get my information from more than one source, and because Yoshikawa-san also stated in his email that his "comments are not Academically proved," be aware that the following information may not be accurate. However, it is all I could find, and it seems legit, so I am going with it.

"Senchado is similar to Chado - the matcha tea ceremony. However one of the differences is that in Senchado metal kettles are not used boil water because it is believed that it affects the taste of the sencha in a negative way. Instead, a terracotta pot called "bofura" is used.

Sencha was introduced in mid 17th century to Japan from China, and this bofura originally came from China too. It has a handle on the side and it is therefore considered to be the fore-runner of the yokode kyusu. In the early Onkoyaki kiln workshop (Gifu-pref) established in 1859, houbin (teapots without a handle) and yokode kyusu were produced. Old banko kyusu were also in the yokode style. Onkoyaki no longer exists, but the area of Onko is in the same vicinity as Tokoname and Banko and therefore we can assume that yokode teapots were produced by these kilns at around the same time."

I had not heard of senchado before, but it is just what it sounds like, a tea ceremony using sencha instead of the more expensive matcha. According to the Japan Times, the idea was to make tea "available to everyone, rich or poor, educated or illiterate."

Fukugata
Diameter: 3.6"
Height: 2.5"
Volume: 10 oz (300 ml)
Price: $35
Vendor: Rishi-Tea

Fukugata Kyusu (Fookoogahtah Kyooosoo), its name means "happy shape," or the implied, more whimsical "Shaped like a jolly, full-bellied man. I love this teapot. This is the teapot I reccomend to anyone looking to buy a Tokoname teapot. Its a classic shudei (red clay) pot, elegant in its simplicity. At $35 it is about as low as you are going to pay for a pot from Tokoname, at least a good one that is.

But what sets the Fukugata apart from all the rest is its sasame, clay mesh screen. You wont find other teapots with a sasame of that caliber at that price, or at least I haven't. Most have only have a stainless steal mesh like an obi-ame. Functionally it doesn't matter; both styles of filter will get the job done, but the sasame is just so much...cooler. Using traditional, hand-crafted tea ware connects me to the timelessness of tea, and seeing a big, shiny piece of stainless steal kind of takes the fun away.

There are a couple of things to say against it, though. 1) Its design is simple, perhaps too simple. One person I recommended this pot to wasn't interested because of that, a valid point. 2) I think it may be too large for gongfu, so if you are looking for something for puerh or oolong, you may be happier with a traditional yixing pot or gaiwan. That is not to say it can't be done. I've used a 13 oz yokode kyusu for gongfu demonstrations before and had great results, but that was for serving many people.

All in all I rate the Fukugata a 4.5. It is a great little pot, and that price makes it very hard to beat.

8 comments:

Fortunato said...

As usual w/you, neat review...

Cheers,

Fortunato

Cloudwayfarer said...

The Kyusu or Kyshu was as was written, used in Sen-cha-Do, which is basically loose leaf tea sessioning rather then the matcha form. Sencha Do is another elaborate topic in itself. Your 'yokode kyusu' (side-handled), comes from a Chinese design when the view of tea as part medicine was more common. The form is based off that of the kind of pot that is used to cook chinese medicine. It would sit on top of a clay stove made to fit it. This is also the reason the handle is on the side, because a rear handle design would heat up too much to hold. That is also why the handles are hollow inside, so they don't conduct heat. Almost everything about Japanese tea and tea ceremony was taken from Chinese influence at one time or another. People who are traditionalists still use this kind of pot to cook pu-erh leaf. The japanese adapted it to be used for green tea, with the stove removed from it. Its wide body and over all shape is designed to brew green tea and the japanese leaf varietal specifically. This is because the clay and wide shape allows heat to dissipate quickly not over 'stewing' The fine 'meshed' screen is used because of the common use of cut leaf which is smaller and easier to clog. The clay version retails teas flavors and a porcelain is better used for a variety of different teas. This pot is traditionally used for steeping not the re-steeping of 'gong-fu' cha. Meaning use just enough leaf to brew one pot of tea. If you make japanese green tea in it, a decanter to cool the water before steeping is often used. Pre-boiled water is sometimes recommended for specifically japanese green tea, steeped at well below boiling as most of you already know. The clay version will retain the flavor of the tea so a porcelain version is better suited for someone who wants to be able to brew many different kinds of teas in it.

greentealover said...

If you are really interested in finding more information about these fine teapots, you might want to search the keyword "kyuusu" or kyuusu teapots". The 2 u's in (ky"uu"su) are a direct translation of the japanese word.You might also want to take a look at "Aritayaki" which is the first choice of most Japanese. (according to an article I recently read in the Japanese newspaper "Asahi Shinbun". I don't recall the exact figures, but somewhere around 17,000 japanese were asked which is the best pottery in Japan. Over 8,000 answered "Aritayaki") Tea brewed or infused in these teapots has a pure clean taste as Aritayaki porcelain is very hard, and made with extremely high heat (in the kilns).

Space Samurai said...

I'm familiar with arita yaki, its just not my thing.

The spelling of kyusu varies from place to place, as it isn't two u's so much as it is an elongated u. Some spell it kyusu, others kyusu with a dash over the u, and others kyuusu. Just depends.

Foogod said...

I just stumbled across this post. The information on Onkoyaki and its relationship to the modern Tokoname is really interesting, and something I hadn't come across before.. Thanks for sharing!

One small correction, BTW: The "de" in "yokode" does not mean "at". It is actually a form of the Japanese word "te" meaning "hand" (this is more obvious when reading the word in kanji), so literally "yokode kyuusu" translates to "side-hand teapot"..

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Jim Marks said...

If you read "The Book of Tea" by Okakura Kakuzo you discover that there have been three major "phases" of tea-based beverage drinking: boiled, whipped and steeped.

The loose leaf approach we generally think of when we think of tea is this third form. The chado, which uses matcha, is one of the last remaining examples of the second phase of whipping tea. Thankfully, all that remains of the first form is certain spiced chais, most boiled tea was purely medicinal and tasted horrible.

So, not only is senchado a financially more accessible way to enjoy formal tea, it is simply more moden. It developed afte the chado as the world of tea drinking entered the third phase of steeping and the whipped techniques of the chado became increasingly anachronistic.

In fact it is likely that the current high price of matcha came -after- rather than -before-. Once the demand for matcha was reduced to only being used for chado, the supply and demand economics would radically shrink the available product and drive up the price. But it is less likely when whipped tea was the primary preparing method and loose leaf extremely rare, that the pricing would have really been the issue.