Karamono: Heirlooms of Chinese Art from Medieval Japan
Live Auction: 9 October 2023 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong

Karamono: Heirlooms of Chinese Art from Medieval Japan 9 October 2023 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong

C hinese goods imported to Japan, karamono, held for centuries a very special place in Japanese culture. This found expression not only in the fact that the Japanese language has this special term to denominate them, but particularly in the Japanese tradition to treat art objects with the greatest respect, to look after them, even when damaged, and to hand them down, reverentially, over centuries.

Chinese goods imported to Japan, karamono, held for centuries a very special place in Japanese culture [… they] were markers of status and assembling impressive collections of paintings, calligraphy, and finely crafted objects was both a privilege and obligation of those who ruled.

Ceramics everywhere in the world started as everyday household wares and as burial goods to replicate more costly materials, but tea drinking became popular and developed into a cult in China in the Tang dynasty (618-907), certain ceramics began to acquire a status far above that of practical utensils. Tea connoisseurs began to take note of the vessels the beverage was served in, distinguished between the wares from different kilns, and expressed preferences. The appreciation of ceramics has long remained connected with ritual tea drinking, often in a Buddhist context.

The Japanese pronunciation of Tianmu, tenmoku or temmoku, became the general denominator of Jian tea bowls [… they ] were utensils of humble aspect, almost certainly contributed to make them the vessels of choice in Zen temples.

The tightly curated selection includes the most exceptional line-up of black tea bowls, mostly from the Jian kilns, ever to come on the market, and are endowed with some of the most prestigious provenances in Japan, including the Daikōmyō-ji, Baron Denzaburo Fujita, Masuda Takashi (Masuda Donno), and the Kuroda Family. All of these pieces have been used for ritual tea drinking for centuries in Japan, particularly the exceptional pieces from the Daikōmyō-ji, which marks the first time the Temple deaccessioned treasured tea wares and tea ceremony utensils.


The Daikomyo-ji Temple was originally built in Fushimi-ku in southern Kyoto city. It served as the family temple of the Fushimi-no-Miya Family since the burial of Prince Yoshihito (1351-1416), the first generation of the oldest branch of the Japanese Imperial Family. Since its construction, the Temple has been repeatedly destroyed by fire and wars, and preserved with the help of generous patrons such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

The Temple was unfortunately abandoned entirely in 1868 due to the anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji Revolution. Its operations resumed five years later at the Shinge-in Temple, which is located in the centre of Kyoto city and was later integrated into the present-day Daikomyo-ji Temple. The Daikomyo-ji Temple is revered and well respected for its long history, and its successive abbots have devoted themselves to missionary work, salvation and enlightenment of sentient beings (Shujo Saido), and the propagation of Buddhist culture.

As the current abbot of the Temple, it is my obligation to ensure the history and legacy of the Temple is passed down to future generations. Therefore, it is of great urgency to construct a new residence hall (Kuri), as the existing building has survived for more than two hundred years since its construction, rendering its aged structure to become fragile and vulnerable to earthquakes of level four intensity.

The new building will serve as a peaceful and safe place for devotees and worshippers. In order to raise essential funds for the construction of the Kuri, selected artworks and tea ceremony utensils that were dutifully and carefully stored in the Temple are offered at this auction. We humbly request connoisseurs and discerning collectors to understand the purpose of this auction, and we sincerely ask for your faithful support for our cause.

September 2023
Eighteenth Abbot of The Daikomyo-ji Temple
Kendo Yano

The Daikomyo-ji Temple Highlights


Since the 1950s, Mayuyama & Co., Ltd. was the first Japanese art dealer to participate in overseas auctions, including the sales of some of the most renowned British collections offered at Sotheby's London. At the time, Mayuyama Junkichi (1913-99), the then President of the company, had been travelling extensively in Europe and the USA, where he had the opportunity to meet with prominent collectors such as Sir Percival David, Mrs Alfred Clark, Mr Rolf Cunliffe and other distinguished connoisseurs of the time.

Commemorating our 50-year relationship with Sotheby's Hong Kong, it is a great pleasure for us to offer some of the finest masterpieces from our collection for this curated auction aptly titled Karamono. The term, Karamono, holds a very special place in Japanese culture and is reserved for only the finest Chinese tea bowls and flower vases; these rare treasures are meticulously cared for and displayed with the greatest consideration during ceremonies. Among them, we have carefully selected two important and exceptionally rare black-glazed wares of unsurpassed quality for this sale. The first of which is a Jian russet-streaked 'nogime tenmoku' bowl (lot 2511); its glossy pitch-black glaze, marked with mesmerising striations, creates a stunning contrast with Japanese green tea, and epitomises the beauty of the Song dynasty wares. The second is a gilt-decorated black-glazed Dingyao tea bowl (lot 2513). While black-glazed Dingyao conical bowls are already considered the paragon of black wares, it is extraordinarily rare to come across a perfectly finished work, which was even the case during the time of production. Of those exceedingly rare specimens, those adorned with gilt decorations were presented to the Koryo court and served as a testament to the pinnacle of artistic achievement of the Northern Song dynasty. The boundless darkness of the black glaze evokes the vastness of the universe and a sense of eternal beauty that transcends time.

Mayuyama & Co., Ltd.
President, Tadashi Kawashima


Lacquerware Highlights

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