Tea Containers 1 by Richard Milgrim
Commonly known in English as “tea caddy” or “tea container,” these small yet precisely crafted jars are exclusively used to hold the thick, highest quality powdered green tea known as koicha, or thick tea. Among the various ceramic utensils used as chanoyu, chaire have the highest ranking, a major factor influencing their high price despite their small size.
Originally all chaire were imported from China going back to the 13th century and they came with custom-made ivory lids and silk brocade bags. They were often used as containers for medicines and made with very fine clay and thrown extremely thin on the wheel. The glazing was done in a very simple manner, usually with an iron saturate glaze covering the piece with an extra drip on one side delineating the front and often serving as a source of inspiration for a poetic name.
From the mid-14th century the Japanese tried to imitate these chaire. Though somewhat similar in shape, the clays were much less refined and the pieces much heavier with various imperfections. These native chaire became more popular in the 16th century when the wabi (rustic simplicity) aesthetic finally overcame the preference for sophisticated Chinese utensils.
Today many of the original imports which have carefully documented lineages and a multitude of accessories can occasionally be seen in famous museum collections. Sometimes they are even used on very special occasions such as a memorial tea ceremony to to commemorate a famous historical figure who may have owned that particular piece at some time in its history.