Yohen Tenmoku Tea Bowl (spotted Tenmoku tea bowl) (曜変天目茶碗)

The term "Yohen Tenmoku tea bowl" refers to a tea bowl considered to be the best of Tenmoku (a stoneware glaze which is deeply stained by iron oxide) tea bowls. Sometimes it is abbreviated to Yohen Tenmoku.
Yohen is usually written in kanji (Chinese characters) '曜変,' but it can be also written in kanji '耀変.'

Summary

Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls are said to have been made in Kenyo (a kiln that had existed in present-day Jianou City, Fujian Province, People's Republic of China). There are only four (or three; see below for further details) tea bowls identified as existing Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls in the world. All of them exist in Japan. Three of them are designated as national treasures, and the remaining one is designated as an important cultural property. All these tea bowls are said to have been made in the Southern Sung period, but the makers are unknown. They resemble each other closely in shape and size. Therefore, some insist that all of them were made by the same person.

The word 'Yohen' (曜変) was originally written in kanji '窯変' or '容変.'
The latter means an unexpected change in color during a firing of pottery. As beautiful star-like spots appear on the tea bowls, people came to use the kanji 'Yo' (曜 or 耀) meaning 'twinkling of a star' or 'glitter' instead of 窯 or 容. The reason why these spots appear on them has not been completely explained yet. There is also controversy as to whether the spots were intentionally or accidentally made.

Collection of Seikado Bunko Art Museum

The tea bowl is commonly known as Inaba Tenmoku, which is considered to be the best of the Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls. Originally, the Tokugawa Shogun family had owned it. Iemitsu TOKUGAWA granted it to Kasuga no Tsubone. Consequently, it was handed down to the Inaba clan, which was descended from her, of the Yodo Domain.
For that reason it came to be called 'Inaba Tenmoku.'
Later Koyata IWASAKI, commander of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu (a financial clique or group, or company syndicate), obtained it. But Iwasaki considered that he was too humble to use such an excellent pottery in the whole world. Therefore, he is said to have never used it. Seikado Bunko Art Museum owns it now. It is designated as a national treasure.

Size

Height: 6.8 cm
Diameter: 12.0 cm
Base diameter: 3.8 cm

Collection of Fujita Museum of Art

The tea bowl had been handed down to the Mito-Tokugawa family, and the spots of Yohen appear also on its outer side. In 1918, Heitaro FUJITA of Fujita Zaibatsu obtained the tea bowl, which is now owned by Fujita Museum of Art. It is designated as a national treasure.

Size

Height: 6.8 cm
Diameter: 12.3 cm
Base diameter: 3.8 cm

Collection of Ryuko-in of Daitoku-ji Temple

The tea bowl was handed down to Ryuko-in (Kita Ward, Kyoto City), which is a tatchu (sub-temples in the site of main temple) of Daitoku-ji Temple. It is designated as a national treasure. It is the simplest of the three Yohen Tenmoku tea bowls designated as national treasures. But it is highly valued because it is considered to have subtle and profound beauty. As it is usually not open to the public, we have few opportunities to see it.

Size

Height: 6.6 cm
Diameter: 12.1 cm
Base diameter: 3.8 cm

Collection of MIHO MUSEUM

The tea bowl had been handed down to the Maeda clan, the Lord of the Kaga Domain. It is designated as an important cultural property. Jiro OSARAGI had the tea bowl, which is now owned by MIHO MUSEUM. There is controversy as to whether this tea bowl should be referred to as 'Yohen' or not. Some insist that it should be classified into Yuteki Tenmoku tea bowl (tea bowl with silvery [oil] spots).

Size

Height: 6.6 cm
Diameter: 12.1 cm
Base diameter: 3.9 cm