Cups-Tenmoku Cup (Tianmu Bei)

Cups-Tenmoku Cup (Tianmu Bei)



Tianmu tea bowls from Jianzhou (currently, Lianan County) in southern Fujian Province and the tea wares for tea whisking during the Song Dynasty are known as Jianzhan. While studies by enthusiasts of the Japanese tea ceremony indicate that the Japanese term Tenmoku can be traced back to as early as 1333, or the second year of Jianwu (in 1335) on the Chinese imperial calendar, more widely accepted is that the term originated during the Kamakura period (between 1192 and 1333). During the Nansong Dynasty, Japanese monks travelled to China to study Buddhism. Some had the chance to learn about tea drinking while they followed reverend masters in the Tianmu Mountain region in Zhejiang Province. The monks brought back Jianzhan to Japan and surprisingly created a fad for Chinese-made tea wares in Japanese society.

The Jianzhan chawan, a Chinese tea bowl known as Tenmoku chawan in Japan, was the preferred tea bowl for the Japanese tea ceremony up until the 16th century. In Japan, tea was also mainly drunk from this Chinese variety of tea bowls up till about the 15th century. The Japanese term tenmoku is derived from the name of the Tianmu Mountain, where Japanese priests acquired these tea bowls from Chinese temples to bring back to Japan according to tradition.


As tea wares from China were considered to be of the finest quality, people felt proud to own Chinese-made products. Among the Jianzhan brought back from China by Japanese monks, some were valuable “changed by flame” tea bowls, “oil spot” glazed tea bowls and “hare’s fur” glazed tea bowls, which captured the hearts of the Japanese noble class. Some big fans were even willing to exchange a city wall and moat for a tea bowl. That is one example of the Japanese craze for the Jianzhan.

Emperor Huizong once wrote in his essays on tea Da Guan Cha Lun (a broad perspective on tea): “As tea bowls with a dark glaze are considered the finest, “hare’s fur” tea bowl has the top quality for it helps to bring out the best of the tea.” In Cha Lu (a record of tea), Cai Xiang said, “The tea soup looks best with a dark bowl. Jianan Kiln produces supreme tea bowls with a dark purple glaze, a texture with fine streaks that look like hare’s fur. The thick body also helps to keep the tea warm.

Hare’s fur glaze: fine vertical streaks like fur on the inner surface of the tea bowl.

Oil spot glaze: small spots that look like oil drops floating on water and have a metallic glow. Oil-spot glaze marks a new chapter in the history of the Chinese pottery.


The cups made at Jianyang are bluish-black in colour, marked like the fur of a hare. Being of rather thick fabric they retain the heat, so that when once warmed through they cool very slowly. None of the cups produced at other places can rival these. The Tenmoku Chawan will change the texture of the water to be more smooth and easily absorb by our body.

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