While many red or shudei teapots are created using clay mixed with manufactured red iron oxide these days, the teapots of Yamada Yutaro are made using clay rich in iron dug out over half a century ago from under the rice paddy fields near Tokoname in Central Japan.
“I found out that back in the day, the best red clay was found in the paddy fields of neighboring towns like Kaminoma and Kowa,” Yutaro said. ‘Back in the day’ refers to the time when the famous Chinese tea pot maker Jin Shiheng arrived in Tokoname from Yixing in China in 1858 to teach local potters.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, most households in Japan owned a ceramic Kyusu teapot and a great majority of them were red. I still fondly remember sipping tea brewed in a vermillion teapot sitting around a heated table watching sumo with my grandparents. Owning a Kyusu teapot must have been a tradition dating all the way back to Jin’s arrival in Meiji Japan. Sadly, this is no longer the case in Japan where many people today get their tea from vending machines.
To make his shudei clay, Yutaro processes dried rock inherited from a now defunct local pottery. Preparing the clay is a physically demanding and time-consuming process, but as with everything else in craft, being uncompromising is often the best way to making good work.
I’ll leave it to the tea aficionados and scientists to judge if a shudei tea pot actually makes the tea taste sweeter and mellower as is reputed. But the fact is that the shudei ware made by Yamada Yutaro is not just about the looks. His teapots are made using carefully selected material with due process and attention that has been practiced and refined over the centuries by numerous generations of potters. I hope that Yutaro’s beautiful and painstakingly prepared work will entice more people to enjoy tea brewed in a teapot instead of coming from a plastic bottle.