A Choko is a small ceramic cup used for drinking sake or as a dipping sauce container for soba noodles.
There are theories as to where the name “choko” came from. One of them says that the word was derived from “choku”, a small dish used in a ceremonial table setting during the Edo period. Another legend says that choko, which is written “boar’s mouth” in Chinese characters, was named after a boar’s snout, which is wide on top and narrow on the bottom.
When warming up sake, people are advised to consider what the temperature of it will be after it is poured into the choko. For example, when sake is heated up in a Tokkuri sake flask to 40°C, the sake, after being poured into the choko will be around 35°C, or approximately body temperature. It is then called “hitohada-kan (body warm sake)”. There are other elegant names to describe sake temperatures such as hinata-kan (sun warm sake), ryou-bie (cool sake) and hana-bie (flower cool sake).
Soba-choko, which is mainly used as a dipping sauce container for soba noodles, has many different patterns such as the ishigaki (stone wall) pattern and the karakusa (arabesque) pattern. Soba-choko is also used for a variety of other purposes.
This character cannot be seen among the tortoise plastron, bone, or bronze inscription characters but from the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal script on. Certainly, it can be divided into a left and right part. It, however, would be too rash to jump to an A+B style mathematical explanation. Dr. Shirakawa summarizes: “The meaning is to realize an oath.”
Rather than a mere superficial interpretation like that of a 言 ‘kotoba: word’ that 成る ‘naru: realizes,’ one has to take the customs and religion of ancient China into consideration here. As was pointed out in the explanation of 信, the 口 of the lower part 言 is a vessel for putting in prayer writings. The meaning of the upper part with its four horizontal lines is hard to understand from the form of the Common Use Kanji. Its original form and meaning has to be understood in the context of the tattoo and ritual body painting culture. It shows the form of an instrument, a needle with a handle for tattooing. Already this part 言 only has the meaning of words of oath to the gods.
The part 成 shows the form of the ritual of completion performed after the making of a 戈 ‘hoko: halberd’ is finished, adding a decoration. This means that the left and right character parts have their origin in religion.
The paint brush known as hake has been used since ancient times. According to some documents dating back to Heian period, feathers from millet plants were used to paint lacquer onto such things as bowls and bows and arrows.
Edo Hake was an important tool and played a vital role for Edo-influenced artisans from various fields. The word, Edo Hake, first appeared in a product guide book called “Mankin-sugiwai-bukuro”, published in the middle of Edo period. In the book, Edo Hake was introduced as a brush to apply glue for mounting. There are seven kinds of brushes that are designated as Edo Hake: Kyouji Hake, Senshoku Hake, Ningyou Hake, Urushi Hake, Mokuhan Hake, Oshiroi Hake and Tosou Hake.
Modern Edo Hake now uses human hair and animal hair such as horse, deer and goat as well as plant fibers from box tree and hemp palm. Because many hairs are curly to some degree and contain oil, both of which prevent craftsmen from attempting subtle work, a good part of the production process is dedicated to strengthening the hair and eliminating grease from the hair.
The most vital part of the brush is the edge of the hair which is evaluated for its evenness and firmness. It is an essential job for the brush makers to make a careful examination in selecting the best materials.
Hino lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Hino-cho, Gamo-gun, Shiga Prefecture. The craft dates back to 1533, when Gamo Sadahide, the castellan of Hino Castle, planned to build a castle town. He assembled woodcraftsmen and lacquerers working at the foot of Mt. Watamuki and made them live in the specially arranged blocks of Nusi-machi (lacquerers’ town) and Kataji-machi (woodcraftsmen’s town), where the making of Hino lacquered bowls started.
As Sadahide’s grandson Ujisato was transferred to another place in 1584, the making of this craft declined for a short time. However, as Ohmi-Hino merchants were willing to sell Hino bowls as their staple merchandise, the production of Hino bowls started to grow again and its name came to be widely known. Most of the early products that are still existing today are vessels for ceremonial use. They are characterized by the heavy body and thick foot rim.
In 2001, efforts to revive this traditional craft started by volunteers in the town. They are now working on the production of lacquer ware that can be durable for daily use.
Mumyoi ware is a type of pottery made of mumyoi clay, which contains ferrous oxide and is obtained near the ancient goldmine on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. Originally, mumyoi was used for medical purposes such as relieving symptoms of palsy, digestive problems, burns, and helping to stop bleeding.
The pottery was first produced in 1819, when they were fired at relatively low temperature. The large-scale production adopting high-temperature firing was started in 1857. Unlike other clay wares, Mumyoi ware requires extra processing efforts such as raw-polish, a process that polishes the products with cotton cloth before firing, and a process of polishing with sand after firing.
As Mumyoi pottery is fired in a kiln at a high temperature, it becomes exceptionally hard. It is well-known that Mumyoi ware produces a clear metallic sound when tapped. The more it is used, the glossier it becomes. Mumyoi ware is more suitable for daily use rather than for decorative purposes.
Ryukyu pottery is a traditional handicraft handed down in the Tsuboya district in Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture. Pottery techniques were introduced to Ryukyu through the trade with Southeast Asian countries during the 15th century.
Later in the early 17th century, potters from Korea and China were invited to teach their techniques to the local potters, who gradually combined them with the techniques used in the Satsuma domain, the ruler of Ryukyu at that time, and developed their original pottery ware. In the late 17th century, King Shotei of the Ryukyu Dynasty concentrated all the workshops build around his country in the Tsuboya district. Since then the Tsuboya district has been the center of Ryukyu pottery up to the present time.
Using locally produced clay and glazers, it is characterized by generous-hearted and bright impression that is typical to the south land. Pottery produced at these kilns is classified largely into two groups; Ara-yachi and Jo-yachi. Ara-yachi potteries are not glazed and large in size, while Jo-yachi includes those finely-glazed and having painted designs.
Neriagede is an artistic technique for creating ceramic pottery by layering or blending of clay of different colors to create a striped or marbleized effect. It requires high level of pottery techniques. Quite simply saying, it can be a little like making a tiered cake (baumkuhen).
The Neriagede shaping process comprises the steps of stacking alternately a plurality of clay boards differing from each other in color, which creates beautiful striped or marble-like patterns. In order to avoid cracking and breaking which come along with mixing a variety of different kinds of clay or during firing, high level of thechniques and extensive experiences are required.
The thechnique of Neriagede is said to be derived from the marbeling tchnique (called “Kotai” in Japan) in the Tang Dynasty China in the 7th century. It is said to have been introduced to Japan around the Azuchi-momoyama period (1568-1598), for there are several pieces of Neriagede pottery, which were supposedly made in this era, have been found.
In recent years, the techniques to color the clay itself is invented and more complex and highly artistic works are being created. New “layers” of the techniques are overlapped on to the traditional “layers,” which continuously propels the development of this high-leveled ceramic ware.
Yukirinsai is one of the most painstaking pottery techniques. First, the glaze of the base color is applied to the surface of the vessel to be fired. Then gold leaf id applied onto it and it is covered with another layer of the transparent glaze and further fired at higher temperature so that the gold leaf is effectively sandwiched between two layers of glaze.
This adds to the durability of the gold decoration and makes the glitter of gold more contained and elegant. As the beauty of the finished work solely depends on the simple combination of the gold leaf and transparent glaze, careful attention must be paid to the hue of the base color and the layout of the gold leaf. It also requires a highly specialized technique to ensure that the gold leaf doesn't roll up or melt into the glaze during firing.
All these meticulous care comes into fruition of a highly elaborate work with the gold leaf decoration looking as if it emerges up to the surface of the vessel. Although most of the pottery techniques used in Japan were introduced from China, this Yurikinsai technique was invented by the hands of Japanese potters. What covers the glitter of gold may be the Japanese veneration for modesty.