Water Jar in Shape of a Basket

Edo Period, 17th Century

Inv. Nr. #21.001
Date Edo period, 17th Century
Material Ash glazed stoneware, lacquered wooden lid
Dimensions H 20,0 x Diam. 14,5 cm

Comes with fitted wooden box, attested and signed with two seals by art historian Katsura Matasaburō (1901-1986)

An unusual, old Bizen fresh water jar (mizusashi) in shape of a woven bamboo basket from the 17th century. At that time, the tea ceremony was not restricted anymore to a small elite but became more and more popular among wealthy merchants in the fast growing cities of Japan. Holding a tea ceremony had also prestigious reasons. The host wanted to show his precious items and wanted to entertain and surprise his guests as testimonial for his creativity and wealthy background.

For that reason, artisans began largely to experiment with materials, shapes and forms and some very unusual objects were created, like this fresh water jar that looks like a woven basket on the first glance but is entirely made of Bizen clay. The illusion is perfect since the potter even skillfully managed to create the soft and shiny texture of darkened bamboo baskets.


Bamboo baskets are usually more associated with the Chinese-inspired tradition of brewing steeped tea that also gained large popularity in the 17th century. However, there exist some stories that are connecting the usage of bamboo baskets with the Japanese tea ceremony. For instance, when famous tea master Sen no Rikyū was asked to prepare tea for Toyotomi Hideyoshi during a battle. According to that story, Sen no Rikyū was worried that there was no suitable flower container available. He noticed a fisherman from the Katsura River in the distance with a basket for sweet fish hanging from his waist, purchased the basket and displayed a simple pumpkin flower in it. Hideyoshi was so delighted by that simple elegance of the container that he praised it until his death.

Although there are some differences concerning the plaiting techniques, this fresh water jar might be created in association with the famous Katsura basket by Sen no Rikyū. By switching the material to clay, the 'basket' has the surprising effect that it is capable of holding fresh water. Additionally, it plays with the idea that this water might be scooped from the Katsura River, which is, in fact, a famous region near Kyōto praised for its tremendous beauty.


The mizusashi comes in a modern wooden box with a certification by art historian and pottery specialist Katsura Matasaburō (1901-1986), who also dated this piece to the early Edo period.