Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The problem of perceived value

I love matcha chawan tea bowls. Matcha chawan is the “lead performer” in the Japanese Tea Ceremony “show” where bonsai may or may not be one of the “stage props”. Japanese bonsai aesthetics owe a lot to the tea ceremony and this is why the tea bowl topic periodically pops-up in my blog (see, and During my stay in Osaka last June, I went window shopping at Hankyu Department Store at Umeda. The most interesting thing I saw there was a pair of tea bowls available for sale (see images above). Both are from the Raku family (see my post on Raku Museum here The one on the left is made by Kichizaemon, the current 15th generation Raku master and the one on the right is by his predecessor Kakunyu (1918-1980), the 14th generation Raku master. How much do you think these tea bowls are worth? The one on the left by Kichizaemon was roughly AU$125,000 and the one on the right by Kakunyu was about AU$56,000. Here is the question: Do you think it is a case of perceived value gone too far? I can confidently say that there would be dozens of well-known contemporary ceramic artists who make tea bowls better than these, but none of them can command such exuberant prices. The perceived value of these tea bowls defies the spirit of wabi-cha and Zen in my opinion. Unfortunately, this problem also appears in bonsai when it gets too competitive and commercial.

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