Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Buying Japanese Teaware

I had a conversation the other day with a new guy on TeaChat that inspired me to compile a bit of a guide to purchasing Japanese Teaware.

Short answer, buy from Japanese vendors--this is often true of their tea as well. The closer you get to the source, the better the price and sometimes quality. For example, look at prices for pots by my favorite artist, Shimizu Genji/Hokujo.

Artistic Nippon (Japan): 125 USD
Tamayura (France): 150 USD
Rishi-Tea (USA): 170 USD

For another, less dramatic example, though I hate to pick on Rishi, look at the "kikumaru."

Nishikien (Japan) 40 USD
Rishi-Tea (USA): 55 USD

However, to be fair, shipping must also be taken into consideration, and sometimes the higher cost of having your pot shipped from Japan can eat into the money you would be saving. Even so, the total cost of a Shimizu kyusu and samashi plus shipping from Rishi was 240 vs 195 from Artistic Nippon. And Zencha doesn't charge shipping on their pottery.

There are a few other concerns with purchasing directly from Japanese vendors. A language barrier, exchange rates, and poorly translated web sites, sometimes lacking a clear way to even order the item you want can be intimidating. In some cases there isn't a "shopping cart" or an easy check out; the transaction is handled with emails and international money orders. Not to mention if you don't know anyone who has had experience with a particular site, you could always be taking a risk. But, thus far my experiences have been nothing but positive, and I still think this is the way to go.

My Favorite Place for Tokoname yaki.

As I am about to show you, I simply can not say enough good things about Artistic Nippon and its owner, Yoshikawa Toru. He spent some time going to school in Wisconsin; his English is perfect, so communication is not a problem. He provides a personal touch that I don't see often. All of my correspondence with him has been a pleasure; he has helped me with my Japanese and answered all my questions. He even sent me maps of Kyoto and museum brochures when I mentioned I was planning a trip.

Twice now I have sent him a picture of an item that I was interested in that he was able to procure for me, and I know of a few other people who have done the same. If there is something I'm looking for, Toru san is the first person I go to.

My Favorite Place for Hagi yaki.

Every time I visit their site, I thank all merciful gods that every item I simply must have has already been sold. I live in mortal terror and nigh sexual anticipation of the day they re-stock. They have a phenomenal selection, biographies of their artists, a feature that I am particularly fond of, and free shipping.

Other well known places that I have used and can vouch for, though their selections are smaller:

Den's Tea

These vendors have extraordinary selections, but I have not yet purchased from them. I would ask around a bit or contact them before pulling out the credit card. Just to be safe.

Looking for wholesale, try these guys:

Since I picked on them...

They have the best selection of Tokoname I've seen from a domestic vendor. Whoever their buyer is, he has very good taste. I have purchased seven of their pots over the last two years, and all of them were excellent for the price paid. If you choose to go with a company closer to home, I highly recommend them.

The Fukugata in particular is the best tea pot for beginners, in my opinion. If only they could keep it in stock. If you get a chance, grab one; its worth it.


Jeremy said...

Here's a hearty second to Toru at Artistic Nippon. I have had nothing but incredibly positive experiences with them.

MarshalN said...

I should add that for those of you who are adventurous and perhaps know a little Japanese, buying things through auction might not be a bad bet. Certain things can be very cheap there, depending on what you're looking for and how picky you are with things. Payment and bidding can be handled through agencies that do this sort of thing. If you want recommendations, I can give you a few names that I've used.

But of course, it takes a lot of time and effort (including getting up early to bid). I find Japanese auctions to be quite reliable in terms of quality of goods delivered vis-a-vis description. I've scored a few things so far that I feel are a total steal given what they are, even factoring in the extra cost of using a deputy and shipping.

Carlo said...

Hi, I know that it is not inherent with this topic, but I'd ask you an opinion:

have you ever tried O Cha's Daily Sencha?

Is it good or not too much??


Space Samurai said...


I haven't tried it, but I've heard good things.

Based on my experience with all of o-cha's teas, I imgaine the daily sencha is quite good for the price, better than a lot of other sencha you might find, but not as good as your other options, the hatsumi, midori or miyabi.

Like any other tea, the desireability of the daily sencha will come down to a personal decision concerning your budget and your palate most likely.

Yuri Hayashi said...

Hi, I just wanted to say hi! I keep coming back here to read your posts and I thanx for this article, it will be helpful!
I have a tea blog too but I'm sorry that is most in portuguese (because I'm from Brazil) and I did it like this to try to make tea more popular here. It's not that big, specially because of the coffee culture we've developed.
Yuri Hayashi

Anonymous said...

Just want to mention, we (O-Cha.com) re-worked our Tokoname tea ware lineup about a week ago. More items will be added next week. All items are now shipped directly from Japan and I tried to make the prices as competitive as possible. If you haven't visited in awhile, you may want to take a second look. Here's a link to the teapots: http://www.o-cha.com/green-teas/teapots/

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I found this post to be very informative. I will have to visit again the next time I am searching for new teaware.

Anonymous said...

Hello Alex,

First of all, thank you for your lovely blog. The pics are awesome and it made me buy an Hokujo's kyusu.
(Second, excuse in advance my approximate english =p )

I have some questions but before asking, I wanna let you know that Tokoname Teapot is a serious place to buy. The prices are very competitive (paying in Euro helped though), the shipping cost (EMS insurance include) is ridiculous, the packaging absolutly perfect and I recieved it in 3 days ! (I leave in France and no... I am not working for them ^^ )

Ok, here are my question.
I dedicaded this kyusu for my jasmin tea (cause i just love this tea) but i am wondering if it's not a waste. I heard the clay of tokoname is perfect for subtil green teas and i was wondering if, despite i use it for jasmin tea i could still use it for sencha for example ? Or will the jasmin flavor impregnate too much the clay ?

Have a good day.

Space Samurai said...

Thanks, Guillaume. I'm glad you bought a Hokujo Kyusu; I love his stuff. I just purchased a Hokujo chawan that I'm looking forward to.

Your questions is a good one. How sepcific you want to be in dedicating your pots depends a lot on your personal taste.

It has been my experience that Tokoname clay just isn't all that porous, though I've only had my pots for a few years. Given more time, who knows? Also, oils and scents like Jasmine or Bergamont may have a higher chance of lingering in your pot, so a little caution is reccomended, but don't be too afraid to cross brew a bit.

I decide what tea is a pot's primary purpose, then I don't brew anything in that pot that will interfere with that tea.

So feel free to brew other, non-flavored/scented green teas with your jasmine. If after time you notice that a regular green tea is starting to pick up hints of jasmine, and if that bothers you, it may be time to get another pot just for your greens.

shelley said...

Just discovered this blog today. What is the difference between Japanese and English teapots? What has your experience been with English teapots?

Anonymous said...

does anynody knows who is the meker of a hand made japanese teaware i have for 3 generations, is an elephant shape with a crown on top and inside the elephant the letters N.P.E.A.


Unknown said...

You're all right, and I have been wrong.

I will now stand beside you, in Society.

I will assume my role.

Nikola Tesla
Martin Luther
Robin Hood
Jimi Hendricks
Harry Houdini
Sarah Bernhardt
Joan of Ark
Marquis deSade
Johnny Appleseed

I will also take my Meds.

Marc Breed
America's Fetish Photographer

Tsubo said...

I'll add Magokorodo store on Ebay and Hojo's Tea on the net !