As a potter, I was most interested in the ceramic tea bowls used for the ceremony. These quirky, asymmetrical bowls just seemed really incongruous with the orderliness that characterizes the whole event. I would have expected the cups to be equally as fussy. But no, these bowls struck me as very spontaneous and free-form. They're the hippies of the tea ceremony, clearly.
Although I didn't know it at the time, when I first started learning pottery my pieces actually followed this Wabi (Wabi-cha) aesthetic style of ceramics.
Yes, many of the tea ceremony bowls look a bit like the sloppy, lopsided crapola I first produced on the potter's wheel. While I proudly gave these finished disasters to my mom, Wabi artists are selling theirs in pricey little Kyoto shops for $2,000 each.
I can appreciate the beauty in imperfection, but this leads me back to an old debate of mine (which I usually have in my head, middle of the night, half-asleep, when I think I have the world all figured out) on how Art, categorically speaking, accommodates a number of products that I wouldn't even consider good craftsmanship. Me, I have much more regard and appreciation for the skill it takes to produce the perfectly round, and charmingly detailed bowls at the right over the misshapen and hastily glazed pieces at left. But I know many potters who would prefer these imperfect, organic forms and would consider the others too sterile.
A part of me can't help but wonder if aesthetics like this really grew out of a deficit of talent. The Raku family has been renowned for their ceramics for 15 generations. Fifteen generations! Are you telling me that each and every one of them was a quality potter? Who knows? Perhaps at some point during generation five, Larry Raku wasn't too great on the wheel and total crap at glazing. But heck, it's a Raku piece. Raku means quality.
Don't get me wrong, I do like the Wabi style. Really. If for no other reason than it's gotten me to relax as a potter and resist editing my work to death.
More Wabi style (not mine):
During the cold winter months, the cups are thrown extra thick so that the tea retains heat. Whatever imperfections come out of the form and glazing process, attention must be given to ensure that the cups are pleasant to hold.
Anyway, if you don't get the chance to participate in a tea ceremony, you can always shell out $10 for a cup of coffee in Tokyo like we did. Certainly no less a cultural experience.