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Fresh Water Jar in the Form of a Wooden Bucket

Fresh water jar in the form of a wooden bucket

Fresh water jar in the form of a wooden bucket, 1625–1635. Made in China for Japanese patrons. Porcelain with underglaze blue. Asian Art Museum, Gift of Roy Leventritt, B69P95L.

What is this object?
This is a container to hold cold, fresh water made especially for use in the Japanese tea gathering. Its shape reminds us of a wooden bucket used to carry water from a well, but it is made out of porcelain, a glazed ceramic fired at a high temperature so that the clay becomes extremely hard and the surface glassy.

How is it used in the tea gathering?
The tea host places fresh, cold water inside this vessel to be used during the tea gathering. At a certain point the host removes the lid, placing it alongside the vessel, and scoops fresh water to add to the boiling water in the kettle. This might be done to replenish water used, or to cool the temperature if the water is too hot. Water from this vessel is also used to clean the tea bowl after the guests have drunk tea.

What is this object’s connection with China?
This water container was made in China by Chinese artists. Japanese tea people communicated to Chinese artists specifically the shapes and types of utensils they desired. The Japanese customers loved rustic art works, and the rough spots on this water jar were admired. In China, the preference was for symmetry and perfection in ceramic arts; this piece would likely have been scorned.

What do the designs symbolize?
This jar is covered with auspicious symbols of immortality, wealth, and happiness. What animals and plants can you recognize? Some of these symbols include:

  • Carp: The carp is associated with perseverance because it struggles through rapids, so it is likened to a warrior of virtue
  • Crab: The Japanese word for crab, kani, sounds like the words for bravery and court rank, so the crab is associated with the warrior class
  • Crane: A symbol of longevity, the crane is associated with New Year’s or weddings

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