Posted 4 months ago
This tiny iron teapot (tetsu kyusu) is 5" wide x 5" high, including the spout and handle and the body is 4" in diameter x 3" high. It has a "MADE IN JAPAN" foil label on the bottom and what looks like 3-4 illegible characters under the spout. It has a lacquer lining, called urushi. It has been very lightly, if at all, used. It included a strainer/infuser. It was offered as "vintage" but I do not know if it is and don't have a clue as to when it was made, except that is probably post-1960. It holds almost exactly 8 ounces (236 ml) of water.
When I first looked at it, I noticed there was paint in the spout which seemed odd and, then, when I wiped it down with a wet paper towel, it came away orange. I am not sure if it was originally black and someone painted it orange or if it was originally orange and someone tried to brighten it up with orange paint, possibly to cover some scuffs. I suspect the latter as the paint in the spout came out very easily after running a couple of pots of boiling water through it and a gentle wipe with a paper towel. I think it is not much used and the bottom is noticeably more matte colored than the body and the label appears to be undisturbed, so maybe matte orange is the original color? I am going to leave it alone for the time being.
These mini teapots are "a thing", apparently very popular. They are large enough to brew only a small amount of tea, a cup or two, depending on the size of the cup. The vast majority of the ones found for sale are made in China, not Japan. There is a lot of misleading advertising around these China made pots, advertised as "Japanese", "Japanese style", "Southern Cast", Japanese sounding brand names, etc. If the teapot does not bear a Japanese foundry mark or label be very suspicious. There are also Japanese "style" foundry marks, but they usually include three squares arranged in a triangle which is a Chinese mark. The Japanese mini teapots are typically pretty expensive and I had been looking for one for my collection for awhile when I found this one.
It is interesting for a couple of reasons besides being very inexpensive. First is the color and leaf design of the lid and body. The leaves start on the lid and connect to the leaves on the body. I suspect that this pot was designed to represent a persimmon and is about the size of a medium sized one. It took some effort to make this convincing, an indication that this teapot is not junk.
Second is the bottom of the teapot. Note the two square spots and the center circle in image 4 which is the remains of a casting sprue. Most cast iron Japanese teapots I have examined have the round sprue in the center of the pot, often visible inside through the urushi lining. The bottoms are often worked to hide the marks on the outside. The center sprue is a casting mark and squares were for hold the pots while working them. All were once holes in the pots which were later filled in with a solution made of urushi lacquer and different kinds of iron dust to plug them. Though hard plugs, they are softer than the surrounding cast iron.
So, this ends my quest for a mini Japanese teapot. I christened it by making two cups of Jasmine green tea. The tea I used was good for three infusions, but I was already pretty well caffeinated by the time I cleaned the pot up. If it had been a typical black teapot, I would have done a third pot and let it steep for 10 or 15 minutes and wet a paper towel with the tea and wiped down the outside of the teapot. I just got a new (to me) 16 ounce antique Iwachu teapot which definitely requires that treatment and I will get it cleaned up and posted in the next couple of days along with a christening report. Unfortunately, none of the other Iwachu pots I have in my collection came with infuser baskets and I am waiting on some in the mail.
Here is the Jasmine tea that I used today:
UPDATE: First of all, this did not end my search for a mini teapot as I now have a couple of dozen of these. They are like potato chips. Second, I finally found another example of the kyusu which retained the original (?) finish. The latter pot was orange but the finish was much thinner, permitting me to get a good image of the foundry mark (Image 4). It also came with a pamphlet that I am trying to get some images of. Though identical to my pot, the infuser is solid aluminum, so it is probably an older version of my pot. I suspect that someone wanted a brighter pot and painted over the original finish of my pot. I think most if it would wipe off pretty easily, but I am going to leave it alone, for now.