Sue ware Container / Tea Caddy

Nara period, 8th Century, Edo Period Lid and Cloth Bag

Inv. Nr. #23.030
Date Nara period, 8th century
Material Gray stoneware with natural ash glaze
Dimensions H 4,5 x Diam. 9,0 cm

Price on request

A rare Sue ware container from the Nara period (710-794). The original purpose of this vessel was probably to hold either medicine or cosmetics. However, during the Edo period (1603-1868), a tea ceremony master converted the small pot into a tea caddy. It was given an individual lid covered with gold foil and a cloth bag made of printed cotton.


The repurposing of small containers as tea caddies was not uncommon and was especially popular in the 17th century. However, due to their age, Sue ware vessels used in this way are extremely rare. Because of its cultural importance, this container was published in the book Sadō-gu no sekai ("The World of Tea Ceremony Tools"), No. 6, Special Edition, Natsume  Kae-chaki (Tankōsha 2000).

The term "sue" was coined in the 1930s by archaeologist Shuichi Gotō from a reference to vessels mentioned in the 8th century anthology of classical Japanese poetry, Man'yōshū. Previously, the terms iwaibe doki or chōsen doki were more commonly used.

Sue ware, or sueki, is believed to have originated in the 5th or 6th century in the Kaya region of southern Korea and was brought to Japan by immigrant craftsmen. It was contemporary with Japan's native Haji ware, which was more porous and reddish in color. Sue ware was made from coils of clay that were beaten and smoothed or carved into shape, then fired in an oxygen-reducing atmosphere at over 1000°C. The resulting stoneware was generally unglazed, but sometimes shows an accidental partial covering of ash glaze that either encrusted or dripped onto the surface of the ceramic pieces during firing.

Sue ware was produced in different parts of Japan, including southern Osaka Prefecture, along the coast of the Inland Sea, and in parts of eastern Honshū. This work exemplifies the high quality that potters achieved during that period. The vessel rests on a strong foot ring (kōdai). The flat body has relatively thin walls and a wide mouth with an elegant, slightly raised lip.