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About the work
We are honored to be featured this month on Sketchfab with our photogrammetry reconstruction of a shiro tenmoku teabowl. Sketchfab is the world leading platform for publishing, sharing and selling 3D, VR, and AR content. Our tea bowl is highlighted for week 18 of 2020 in their Cultural Heritage and History Top 10 section. Among the other highlights are a Slovakian castle on the UNESCO world heritage list and the Royal train station resting room in Alexandria provided by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Egypt.
Experimental archeologist and potter Sokei Aoyama
Our model is a rendering of a work by pottery master Sokei Aoyama, who has spent a lifetime experimenting with glazing and throwing techniques to create a shiro tenmoku tea bowl. There are only three originals remaining from medieval times in Japan - all are listed as National Treasures by the government. Master Aoyama was able to reconstruct a shiro tenmoku by the rediscovery of techniques forgotten for five centuries.
By taking hundreds of photographs and bringing them into 3d space we were able to capture the work in detail, including the fine web of cracks on the inside of the bowl and the brown colouring of the base. The shiro tenmoku are used in the Japanese tea ceremony. The darkening of the cracks and the base is a result of tea seeping into the cracks and the body of the piece over decades of use. This ageing is considered to be an important part of the beauty of the shiro tenmoku. Set the viewer to full screen and use the controls (see above) to study the work from any angle you like.
One of the master's reproductions, in the hand of the creator himself.
The origin of the shiro tenmoku
Master Aoyama's home village, Onada in Tajimi city, is home to the remains of several ancient kilns from as far back as the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1185–1333). In 1994 there was an urgent excavation in Onada because road construction works threatened to destroy areas where the kilns had stood. Large quantities of shiro tenmoku fragments were discovered at the Onada Kamashita kiln No. 6. This set off speculation that there was a connection to two of the shiro tenmoku bowls still in existence, as there were obvious similarities between them and the discovered fragments. Could it be that they were produced in Onada?
The tea ceremony is a tradition imported from China. Here a Japanese Ippuku Issen (一服一銭) monk serving matcha at an open tea house. The illustration dates back to the Muromachi period (室町時代, 1336 to 1573).
“There is an easy way to determine if there is a relation to the originals,” the master told us on a visit to his workshop. “You need to look for 'cat whiskers cracks' in the glazing (kanyuu, ja: 貫入].” He showed us an old fragment found in Onada. "Take a look at these cracks,” he said. “Cracks in glazing are called kan'nyū [eng: penetration]. This piece was found in Onada. The cat whiskers are very notable. They are very long, horizontal, wiggly lines, quite different from the other, shorter cracks covering the inside of the bowl."
An excavated piece of ash glazed white pottery. The long, horizontal “Cat whiskers cracks” are clearly visible. (the cracks are vertical in this picture)
The rare, white clay used for the bowls provided another important hint. Aoyama-sensei suspected that there were clay deposits somewhere in Onada suitable for the production of Shiro Tenmoku. Perhaps if one used this clay and the production methods common in the area in medieval times, it would be possible to reproduce bowls similar to the museum pieces? Several decades later, after relentless trial and error, he was finally able to produce pieces with the same traits as the two National Treasures.
We have now captured one of his reproductions so that anyone, anywhere can scrutinize a piece for yourself, irrespective of where you live. To learn more, please read our articles on shiro tenmoku on discovertajimi.com.
We are pleased to be able to make this piece available for viewing by a pottery loving public around the world, even in a time when travel is severely restricted. It is our vision to use the best possible technology to let Japanese creators reach out to the world in this way. The Sketchfab model is a start and accessible to anybody with a Net connection and a smartphone or computer. We are also working on fully immersive experiences in VR, so that people can step into them, holding the objects in their hands, and have a conversation on par with a face-to-face meeting, wherever they may be in the world.