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Waves, birds and island cast iron kyusu.

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Japanese Antiques37 of 702Modern Shin Hanga?Decorative Asian Plate with Nested Decorations
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    Posted 11 months ago

    (834 items)

    This little kyusu is 4.25" in diameter x 2.75" minus lid and handle and weighs 1 lb 2.5 ounces. It holds 250 ml of water, about 9 ounces. It is signed with a very well defined maker's mark. It is unlined and has been used but not abused. It has a "Pacific Designs" label with an infinity symbol on the bottom.

    Waves and birds is a very common theme for kyusu and numerous Japanese foundries have their own version, but this is the first time that I have seen one which includes an island in the design. It is a very well made little kyusu and I discovered the benefits of the high neck on the body when measuring how much water it holds. When trying to pour too quickly from a kyusu which does not have a high neck like this one it is easy for hot water to leak out of the top around the lid and which can scald the hand holding the lid in place. The high neck largely eliminates this problem.

    I could find nothing much about the importer, Pacific Designs, except that it was based in California and also imported Japanese pottery.

    This little kyusu was only $20 shipped. It was the cheapest Japanese kyusu on an on line auction for many weeks. The seller's images were out of focus and made it look very poorly cared for, rusty inside and out, maybe so rusty that it might have a hole in it. I suspected it was unlined, which would account for the rusty appearance of the interior and rust on the outside of kyusus can be easily exaggerated when taking photos. I finally decided to take a chance since it cost so little and was very pleasantly surprised. I think it will clean up very nicely.

    Note in the last image that I placed it next to an average size diner mug for a size comparison. It is tiny. I was very surprised to find it holds about nine ounces of water! The only really bad thing about this little guy is that it is very hard to get the infuser out. This may not be an issue since the capacity is so small that it should be emptied on a single pour. If it was a larger teapot, the concern would be that if the infuser was left in the pot the tea remaining in the pot would continue to steep and become bitter and undrinkable. I get at least three brews from each bunch of tea leaves I use so that would be quite wasteful. That means I normally have to remove the infuser from the kyusu within a couple of minutes of adding the hot water if it is not emptied in one pour.

    I think this was made in the late 1940s to late 1950s.

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    1. Shuzbut Shuzbut, 11 months ago
      What a honey of a cast iron kyusu.
    2. Newfld Newfld, 11 months ago
      Gorgeous ocean design, it's lovely
    3. kwqd kwqd, 11 months ago
      Thanks Shuzbut! I am pretty pleased with it!

      Thanks Jenni! It is a new variation on an old design to me, so I was very surprised and happy to find it.

      Thanks for taking a look at my latest kyusu dav2no1, Jenni, Kevin, Shuzbut and aura!
    4. Ms.CrystalShip Ms.CrystalShip, 11 months ago
      Wonderful tea kettle for your collection. I too, have benefited from poorly done photos! Makes a piece look so unattractive but if you know what you are looking at...yippee!
    5. kwqd kwqd, 11 months ago
      Thanks Eileen! Yep, I have found a lot of nice things by looking beyond poor images and skimpy descriptions.

      Thanks for taking a look at my waves/birds/tree kyusu Eileen, jscott0363, Thomas,
      PhilDMorris and fortapache!
    6. kwqd kwqd, 10 months ago
      Thanks AmphoraPottery!
    7. rhineisfine rhineisfine, 9 months ago
      Hello kwqd! I have a little kyusu tetsubin like this one, too. Mine doesn't have the label yours has, though, so I wonder if it came to North America the same way? Anyway, fascinating to learn more about it!
      This design of waves and birds is called nami-chidori - nami is wave and chidori is the word used for plovers (it literally means "thousand birds" because they tend to flock in numbers). As for dating it, I've heard a couple of things but can't remember the source for either, so take this with plenty of salt: aluminum infusers and vent holes in the lids are both (supposedly) post-WW II innovations.
      P.S. I also have a cherry bark-style mini kyusu tetsu, although mine is unmarked. I bought it purely for its appearance :)
    8. kwqd kwqd, 9 months ago
      Thanks for your comments, rhineisfine! The post WWII dating generally agrees with what I have read. It seems that the smaller tetsu (cast iron) kyusu, meant to only be used for brewing tea, was a post WWII development and the hole in the lid was an adaptation made for that purpose. At some point, maybe in the 1960s, urushi lining became common so that multiple types of tea could be brewed in one pot. The suggestion is that this development was made to cater to Western markets, but it all seems a bit vague. The first infusers seem to have been stamped aluminum which was generally replaced by woven stainless steel baskets in the 1990s. It think the first post WWII tetsu kyusu were unlined and had no infusers.

      Importation of cast iron kyusu into the US seems to have begun with importers on the West Coast like Takahashi in San Francisco in the late 1950s and Kotobuki Trading Co in the 1960s. Guessing the early customer base was Japanese Americans on the coast. Later, when the tea craze began in the US in the 1990s, companies like Teavana and Joyce Chen joined Takahashi, Kotobuki and others in importing tetsu kyusu.

      I think a fair number of smaller tetsu kyusu were purchased by soldiers and their families in Occupied Japan as souvenirs or gifts and this continued after reversion in 1952, though the US military maintained and still maintains bases in Japan. It think that is probably the source for many of the vintage but unused ones I find fairly regularly.

      I wish that I could find some authoritative sources for information about this evolution..... There is a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines on my part.

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