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Mystery Japanese persimmon theme tetsu kyusu

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Japanese Metalwork106 of 128Sotaro Saegusa cast iron Akita okimonoNiigata Prefecture hammered copper chasaji (tea scoops)
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    Posted 2 years ago

    (956 items)

    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:

    Not bad.

    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.

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    1. Newfld Newfld, 2 years ago
      Very pretty orange teapot, the leaf design is so lovely - nice for when you just want a small serving of tea
    2. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Thanks for your comment, Jenni! Its a peach, I mean orange, I mean.....

      Thanks for loving my new teapot Jenni, Theonlyone, jscott0363 and Watchsearcher!
    3. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Thanks aura, Kevin, dav2no1, Hoot60 and Thomas!
    4. racer4four racer4four, 2 years ago
      I thought that sticker was earlier than 1980s Kevin but I might be wrong. 60-70s?
      Glad you found such a sweet one for your collection.
    5. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Thanks for your comment, Karen! The label and teapot could well be older than I thought. I have not found very much information about these urushi lined kyusu with regard to where they fit chronologically in the development of the tetsubin. The impression I get is that they were not common until the 1990s when they were exported to the West. Maybe I am misinterpreting that, however, and they existed and were used by the Japanese before then and it is just notable that they caught on in the West in the 1990s and then supplanted unlined pots.

      I am also finding it really hard to find specific information about caring for and rehabilitating older cast iron tetsubin/kyusu. There is a a great video on YouTube of restoring a catastrophically worn and damage tetsubin, but I am not going to take on something like that. I just want to touch up some badly neglected pots. I have found some good information about routine maintenance touchup of minor finish issues, though.
    6. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Thank you worthit2, fortapache and Karen!
    7. rhineisfine rhineisfine, 2 years ago
      It's hard to tell from your photographs, but if the lid and body show exactly 4 leaves, I think this tetsibom represents a 'kaki' or Japanese persimmon. They always have 4 leaves around the stem. In addition, persimmons are often represented in Japanese art as having a little cross-piece perpendicular to the stem (= the handle of your lid), since this is how they grow on the branches:

      The colour of the pot also supports the 'kaki' hypothesis.
    8. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Thanks for the interesting information rhineisifine! Only three leaves, not four, on the lid and pot. The finial is very reminiscent of a stem, though.
    9. kwqd kwqd, 2 years ago
      Updated photos, I found a maker's mark and a christening report. Maker's mark is hard to see but second image of it is inverted from how it sits under the spout and I think I see a foundry mark in it.

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