Posted 3 months ago
I found this sake cup (guinomi) at a local thrift shop 17 years ago. It was being sold, together with a small ceramic incense case, for the princely sum of $4.
At the time I had just begun studying Japanese tea ceremony. When I saw this guinomi, it stopped me in my tracks because it looked exactly like a miniature tea bowl (chawan). And yet it was too small to be a tea bowl! It was most puzzling. Anyway, although I hadn't yet figured out what the cup was to be used for, I finally ponied up the $4 and went home with both items. I later learned that the glaze on both was called Narumi Oribe, a green copper glaze against a white slip.
Later I was browsing Robert Yellin's website on Japanese pottery when I saw a Kuro Oribe (black glaze) guinomi that was strikingly similar to mine. When I saw an identical potter's mark on its foot, I realized the potter had to be the same individual. It was SASAKI Tadashi (1922-1997), whom Yellin describes as "one of the outstanding Oribe potters of the 20th century." Later I not only confirmed that it was the same individual, I found a Narumi Oribe guinomi - the twin of mine - on a Japanese website with a price tag of 40,000 yen.
The big difference, of course, is that my $4 guinomi was sold without its tomobako (paulownia box), stamped yellow cloth and paperwork, all of which are considered essential for showing provenance. I've often wondered how this guinomi came to be in the thrift shop. Perhaps its owner had died, and the adult children - knowing nothing about the importance of tomobako or the value of pottery - had thrown out the box and taken the items to fetch what they could.
In any event, this meant I could afford to own a really beautiful sake cup, and I toast the original owner every time I use it. By the way, Yellin also says of sake that "the rim of a vessel - its thickness, texture and curve - will affect how a liquid distributes itself across the tongue and palate, thereby radically affecting the taste profile and fragrance." I've found that to be true of this cup: drinking from a thin vs. thick section of the rim yields a slight change in the sake's flavour and sweetness! So I am grateful to have such a nice piece to enjoy sake from.