Possessions: My Matcha Bowl

I was fortunate enough this past summer to travel for a good long while, and late July found me in Kyoto. Japan was on the tail-end of my journey, but over the course of my trip I saved a small amount of money in my wallet and space in my backpack for a new matcha bowl — one that would be uniquely my own.

Three years prior I became a matcha drinker. I had been drinking green tea for some time, and my search for higher-quality tea — in terms of both taste and health benefits — led me to matcha. Serendipitously, a friend had recently begun working at a local tea shop, and sold me the proper materials. Matcha is prepared in a distinctly different manner than bagged or loose leaf teas; it comes as a fine, bright green powder that is combined with hot water and whisked to a froth. The process is a meditative one — measuring, sifting, pouring, whisking, washing. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is an hours-long process, with measured movements and a great deal of contemplation.

It was in Kyoto, at a small tea house near one of the city’s thousands of temples, where I first took part in a true tea ceremony. Our tea guide of sorts, Akiko, had spent years learning the intricacies of the ceremony, and her depth of skill and focus was apparent, as she seemed barely aware of her onlookers. Afterward, I bought a matcha bowl crafted by Akiko’s father, a potter. Until then I had searched through every shop in town, but was unable to find one to my liking. This was the one, and I knew it in a moment.

There is a Japanese aesthetic called wabi sabi. It’s a multi-faceted concept, and one that neither I nor the English language can do justice (though here is a nice introduction). However, as it relates to my bowl, the most important aspect to take away this: embrace impermanence. The story of an object is told through its imperfections that gather with age. From my bowl I can tell you this: its proportions aren’t perfect, its paint wasn’t applied evenly, and parts of it seem to have been in a hotter area of the kiln than others. I love it for those reasons. We designers try to tell a story with our work, be it a single poster or an entire brand. Yet sometimes something as simple as a scorch mark can say as much as the best mission statement.

Beyond serving as a token of my time spent abroad, or a reminder of the importance of harmonious asymmetry, my bowl serves best as … a bowl. In “Uncertainty, Innovation, and the Alchemy of Fear,” Jonathan Fields makes the case for designers and creatives to drop “certainty anchors”:

Certainty anchors are repeated daily experiences where the decision-making aspect has been removed. They can be as simple as eating the same thing for breakfast every day, wearing only black t-shirts, or walking to work the same way. The key is removing the decision-making element from the experience and, in doing so, turning these moments into repeated occasions where you know in advance that you’ll be able to drop out of the creative ether and land on firm ground.

Preparing matcha is an essential part of my daily ritual. I prepare it the same way every morning, though without much of Akiko’s precision or elegance. The process is a time for me to clear my head before a day full of creative thought. My bowl is the vessel that allows that ritual.

This is the third in a new show-and-tell series in which TOKY staff write about an extra special object — book, artwork, artifact — in their possession.