The Four Types of Kyusu: Part II

Ceramic Atode no Kyusu

Atode no Kyusu with rear handle.

In Part I, we talked about two of the most common type of Japanese kyusu, or teapot. Kyusu have evolved over many centuries to best suit the needs of the diverse range of Japanese green teas. The two kyusu we introduced last week – yokode kyusu and houhin – trace their origins back to Chinese teapots adopted by the Japanese in the mid-Edo period. The other main types of kyusu, atode and uwade, are likewise the result of years of adaptation and evolution.

Atode no Kyusu

Just like the yokode kyusu, the word “atode” (後手の急須), meaning “on the back”, refers to this teapot’s structural design. Modeled to resemble western-style teapots, this teapot is especially suitable for Chinese and western-style black teas with a high water temperature and longer steep time.

Decorative Uwade Kyusu

Uwade Kysu or Dobin

Uwade Kyusu

“Uwade” (上手の急須), which translates to “on the top”, is also known as a dobin (土瓶) in Japanese tea ceremony terminology. Shaped like a western tea kettle with a long, curving handle over the top of the pot, uwade kyusu are larger than any other type of kyusu and intended for serving many guests at once. The placement of the handle is designed to accommodate the heavy main body of the pot, which would be difficult to pour with a side or back handle. When these teapots are made of cast iron and intended to be hung over the hearth, they are called tetsubin (鉄瓶).

Kyusu can be a fun way to experience Japanese culture and traditional tea preparation. If you are a fan of Japanese green teas, why not experiment with a kyusu of your own?

By: Jennifer Coate

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part I

We’ve written before about the kyusu before – a small, traditional Japanese teapot perfectly designed for brewing up sencha, konacha, gyokuro, and many other types of green tea. Kyusu have been around for centuries, having evolved from the Chinese Yixing teapot when Buddhist monks first brought tea into the country during the early Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.). As Japanese tea is hugely diverse in style and steeping requirements, the form of the kyusu has changed and adapted over time into several different subtypes: yokode kyusu, ushirode kyusu, uwade kyusu, or houhin. Although there may be some variation in the appearance of the kyusu depending on artisan or manufacturer, the word kyusu itself is still an umbrella term for any Japanese teapot of these four basic shapes. In this post, we’ll explore two of the most frequently seen kyusu in Japan: yokode and houhin.

Yokode no Kyusu

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Yokode Kyusu

Yokode kyusu are the most common type of kyusu used in Japanese tea preparation. Its name reflects its appearance – “yokode” (横手の急須), meaning “on the side”, refers to the large, conical handle protruding from the right-hand side of the pot. This design allows the tea to be poured quickly and easily from a kneeling position, and is especially efficient when pouring small amounts into multiple cups. Yokode kyusu are suitable for most types of Japanese green teas, especially sencha. In fact, it was the rising popularity of sencha in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868 C.E.), that brought about a need for teaware specifically for brewing leaf, rather than powdered tea. Inspired by the leaf teas currently popular with Chinese Ming dynasty officials, early yokode kyusu were likely modeled after China’s purple clay Yixing teapots.

Houhin

Japanese Teapot with No Handles

Houhin ‘Treasure Chest’ Kyusu

Houhin (宝瓶), meaning “treasure chest”, is a small kyusu with a wide spout and no handle. It is usually used for steeping gyokuro and high-grade sencha, like shincha, as its shape and size allow for very quick, highly controlled steeping and pour times. Although these kyusu do not have handles, the low temperature at which these teas are steeped means that the pourer does not have to worry about burning their hands. Like yokode kyusu, houhin usage began in earnest during the mid-Edo period, as tea merchant and monk Baisao began to promote and popularize sencha and other whole leaf tea traditions. The houhin vessels we see today are likely a modified offshoot of the Chinese gaiwan. This is the type of kyusu that we here at Dominion Tea prefer to use when steeping our gyokuro, konacha, and shincha, as the fine filter and rapid pour allow us to brew these teas perfectly every time.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the two other types of Japanese kyusu: atode and uwade kyusu.

By: Jennifer Coate

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Shincha – 1st Flush Sencha

Shincha -- a first flush sencha.

First Flush Shincha

Within the world of Japanese teas, sencha and shincha are two terms that can easily be confused, especially by English speakers. But while sencha is a broad category of popular Japanese green tea, shincha refers to a specific harvest of sencha that is highly prized among tea connoisseurs.

Sencha, with its vast array of varieties, has long held sway over the Japanese tea market, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s overall tea consumption. Production styles vary tremendously depending on region and desired quality. Highest-graded sencha is typically harvested and processed from late April to mid-May. Like all Japanese teas, sencha is steamed shortly after picking to dehydrate the leaves and forestall oxidation, giving it a characteristic vegetal and grassy freshness.

When cultivating sencha, Japanese tea growers divide the growing year into four harvests – referred to in the industry as flushes – named for their order in the year: ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and yonbancha. The first flush, ichibancha, is what produces shincha. Delicate buds and top leaves, harvested by hand and briefly steamed, are plucked when they are still small. By plucking these leaves early, growers capture the intense expression of the all the rich nutrients and flavors that have been cultivating in the soil during the plant’s winter dormancy.

Bright green infused liquor from shincha.

Shincha Fresh from a Kyusu

Shincha leaves are small, tender, and vibrant, with a scent that is both freshly herbaceous and faintly mineral in character. When infused, shincha leaf steeps into a smooth paste yielding a bright green-gold liquor. The flavor, as compared to standard sencha, is notably bolder, livelier, and complex. A strong oceanic minerality overlays undernotes of fresh vegetation, with a faintly bitter finish that gradually gives way to a lingering stonefruit sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and sharp, slightly less astringent than sencha but still decidedly pronounced.

Like other Japanese green teas, shincha is perfect for brewing in traditional kyusu, but is just as delightful steeped in a pot or an infuser. Steep three grams of tea at a low temperature, between 160°-185° Fahrenheit, for two to three minutes. Shincha can also be enjoyed for multiple short steepings.

By Jennifer Coate

 

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Christmas Traditions in Japan

Col. Sanders are Santa in Japan

A New Japanese Tradition: Kentucky for Christmas. Photo by Flickr User ‘rumpleteaser’.

Would it surprise you to know that Christmas traditions in Japan are a reflection of American and European culture? For this huge tea producer and a nation with less than 1% of its population identifying as Christian, it celebrates the holiday with same gusto as America. It turns out a mix of good timing, similar cultural stories of big bellied men, and American marketing made this possible.

Santa and Hoteisho

The story of Santa is not that different from the story of Hoteisho. A large bellied, jolly Buddhist monk with a curly mustache that is said to have eyes on the back of his head to see whether or not children are behaving. Hoteisho travels with a large sack full of good fortune to pass out to people as he spreads cheer and good fortune to all. He is one of the seven lucky gods in Japan and a product of a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism that occurred in Japan in the 13th century. As it turns out, Japan had its own Santa Clause long before exposure to Europeans.

This may also help explain why the Japanese culture had no problem adopting this European tradition. They saw Santa as the European version of Hoteisho.

Christmas Decorations and Gifts

After World War I, Japan became was the largest manufacturer of Christmas decorations purchased in Europe and America. Dresden, Germany had held that title previously, but was so decimated by the war that it never caught back up to Japan’s manufacturing. World War II shifted this again, but the legacy of making Christmas decorations stayed with the Japanese culture. The glass balls on Christmas trees where not that different from the paper ornaments hung by the Japanese in celebration of spring. So Christmas trees, lights and ornaments can be found all over Japan during the month of December. It is very popular to take evening walks along the malls and parks to see the Christmas lights and ornaments.

Gifts in Japan are actually exchanged on New Year’s Day as a way of wishing your loved ones well for the new year. So Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are reserved more for parties, family gatherings and outings than actual gift exchange.

The Emperor’s Birthday

As it turns out December 23rd is a national holiday in Japan to honor the Emperor’s birthday. This is one of the few days that the inner grounds to the Imperial Palace, which is currently located in a park in Tokyo are opened to the public. Many people gather there to wish the Emperor good health and happy future. Think of it like President’s Day in the US, only we have a tendency to focus the deceased Presidents more than the living ones. Since the Emperor’s birthday is so close to the week before the New Year, it marks a time when many Japanese go on vacation to visit family and celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. Schools are closed between the Emperor’s birthday and the new year. This makes it convenient to slide in Christmas, and Christmas traditions, which is what KFC did in the 1970s.

Fried Chicken Christmas Eve

When KFC entered the Japanese market in the 1970’s it was looking for as many ways as possible to get the Japanese into their fast food restaurants. In 1974 they launched their Kentucky for Christmas campaign, which worked beautifully. It was targeted at dating couples to celebrate their blooming relationship and experience a little US hospitality Christmas eve. It took off and is still very popular in country. You have to actually put in for a reservation for a spot Christmas eve, and now you can order for pick up that afternoon to consume at home.

Though a bit quirky, Christmas in Japan is not all that different from Christmas here in the United States.

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Raku Pottery: Art Fashioned by Tea

Raku Style Pottery

Raku Pottery – Photo by Flickr User Tony Alter – CC BY 2.0

Raku pottery finds its roots back to the later part of the Ming Dynasty in China (1500’s CE), but was fully developed by the Raku family in Japan. This pottery technique has spread the world over and has taken its own form in the United States and Europe. However, the fundamentals are still similar and they all go back to the influence of Sen Rikyu, the buddiest monk who created the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Raku Pottery – Early History

Sen Rikyu heavily influenced the first Raku potter, Chojiro. Chojiro’s father was originally from China. He brought with him to Japan the Chinese pottery method of Sancai. This method uses the three colors of off-white, brown, and green to decorate pottery. Chojiro was taught this method and used it in his own works. He was commissioned by the Buddiest monks to make the clay tiles for a temple in Kyoto. It is there that Sen Rikyu and Chojiro met and together brought about what is now called Raku pottery.

Sen Rikyu commissioned Chojiro to make tea bowls that reflected the philosophy of wabi-sabi. This philosophy was focused on the beauty in simple items. Rikyu wanted the tea bowls to be a single color and simple form that reflected simplicity. Chojiro worked in red and black glaze. The red was a reflection of the original color of the clay, while black was a humble color. These bowls became the center piece of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and were shared widely by Sen Rikyu. Both Sen Rikyu and Chojiro worked for a leading warrior statemen, Toyotomo Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi so loved the tea bowls that he presented Chojiro with a golden seal containing the Chinese symbol for Raku. Chojiro took that as his surname and it has been past down through the family ever sense.

 Raku Pottery – Current Times

Fifteen generations later, the Raku family still practices ceramics in Japan. Their home, rebuilt in the late 1800’s, is a museum that houses a collection of the older pieces of Raku ceramics. The current generation is active in preserving the Japanese Tea Ceremony in Japan as well as more modern art and interior design.

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