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Swans, Flowers and Iron

June 10, 2009



Closely tying in to the last post, I wanted to provide some details on the Banko-Yaki Houhin teapot that I referred to. I wasn’t really in the market for a teapot in this style when I came across this one several months ago, but I really liked the look of it so I bought it. The style of pot is Houhin (宝瓶) and it is Banko-Yaki (万古焼), which means that it was made under the Banko kiln name. “Yaki” means “ware” in Japanese, and often with ceramics the part of the name preceding the “-Yaki” is the name of the kiln. This part of the name often also identifies the type of clay since different regions and manufacturers can have their own distinct type of clay. This is true with both Banko and Tokoname. By contrast the “Hagi” in Hagi-Yaki, that Japanese ceramic ware that looks like Frosted Mini-Wheats, the name refers to the glaze and rough style, not the base clay.

Banko-Yaki clay is quite distinctive with its dark brown/purple color and metallic sheen. It feels a little like stoneware in the hand, although it’s not heavy. It sometimes has hand painted decorations on it, but it seems to be most often unglazed, like the Banko-Yaki pot that I have. Of course other forms of teapots can be Banko-Yaki. Banko-Yaki Kyuusu are not unusual.

The Houhin style of teapot is different from a Kyusu (or Kyuusu) primarily in that it is without handles. Its upside-down, 3-sided pyramid shaped spout is typical and differentiates it from a Shiboridashi, which is a smaller capacity, very shallow lidded teapot without a handle and without a strainer. A Houhin teapot can have either a built-in stainless steel strainer like mine, or it can have a sasame – a filter that is made of the same clay and integrated into the pot itself.

banko-yaki_houhin_strainerReally the most remarkable thing about this particular Banko-Yaki Houhin is its price. I bought mine from “The Japanese Green Tea Shop” on eBay for $19 and Yuuki-Cha offers it from their online store for $19 also. These may actually be the same seller, but there are none of these items on eBay right now. This is quite a bargain for an attractive and functional piece of Japanese teaware. I question whether it is actually handmade, as the product description states, because each of the teapots looks identical and it feels and looks machined. The price also leads me to doubt its manufacture as made by hand. Handmade artisan teapots from Japan are usually a lot more expensive. Here is the product description:

“A little handcrafted houhin Banko-Yaki teapot. It is unglazed, fired at 1200°C, and has an iron rich clay. Each side of the teapot has an image of a swan, and the top of the lid’s handle has an image of a flower. Its full capacity is 190ml (6.4oz) measured to the rim. However, when correctly used a houhin should NEVER be filled more than 2/3’s full making its maximum usable capacity approximately 120ml (4oz). In addition, only Japanese green teas such as gyokuro, high quality kabusecha, or high quality sencha that brew at lower temperatures of 50°C-60°C should be prepared in a houhin. Our organic gyokuro, organic kabusecha, or organic gokujo sencha will brew up perfectly in this little houhin! Comes with a hiraami stainless steel strainer that covers the spout exit.”

The bottom line is that this cheap little teapot brews quite delicious tea. The unglazed iron-rich clay has a wonderful effect on Japanese green tea, comparable to that of my Hokujo Tokoname Kyuusu, which cost considerably more money. I would never risk bringing the lovely Hokujo pot anywhere dangerous, but this little Banko-Yaki pot isn’t so precious so currently its sitting on my desk at work. I consider this $19 pot quite a bargain and I’ve grown quite fond of the way that it brews. The one annoyance that I have found with it is that it doesn’t pour terribly well. I’ve tried varying speed and angle of my pour and it always seems to drip some tea or water down its front and onto the table. But most of the liquid ends up where it ought to – in the teacups – and it’s an easy swipe of a towel to clean up after it.


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