Before styles such as Raku, Hagi, Karatsu, etc came into fashion for use in the tearoom in early Edo, it was commonplace in cultured society to use tea-ware imported from China. In fact, some pottery styles uniquely Japanese (such as Shino) are thought to have been born out of unsuccessful attempts to emulate these extremely high-quality and refined ceramics. The number of such pieces imported was so great that today it is not uncommon for Chinese collectors to visit Japan in search of authentic porcelains from the Song Dynasty and later.
The piece featured here, while likely not of Chinese origin, is from the collection of a devoted tea practitioner who described it as ki-Seto ware from Momoyama/ early Edo—making it over 400 years old. What makes this piece exceptional (apart from its obvious beauty and craftsmanship) is the set of intricate trimmings that were fashioned to house this Tenmoku tea bowl, including—an outer wood box, an inner lacquer box, and silk pouches for both the inner box and the tea bowl. This is a sign that the piece was highly prized and that whoever initially commissioned these items (appearing to be well over a century old) had the intention of preserving this piece for future generations.
In perfect antique condition, this Tenmoku bowl is 5.2 inches at the top rim (13cm) and stands 2.2 inches tall (5.6cm). As mentioned above, it comes with an intricate set of trimmings that can be seen in the attached images. On the inner lacquer box is a label with the words “ki-Seto” and “Tenmoku” written in Chinese characters.