One Pot To Rule Them All #2

One Pot To Rule Them All #2

In the past, I’ve written a short post about this Maruhei pot that was made in the Tokoname area.  Please click here to see that post and refresh your memory.  😉  Recently I was able to find another one but slightly different.  An important thing to be aware of in ceramics is that pots are not always made the same.  Markings and sizes can change slightly as the artist develops and changes.  No human being stays the same forever.  The more experience we have in knowing all those small differences will help up better recognize the quality, sometimes age and the ever important, if the pot is a fake!

Being in Japan all this time, I’ve gotten my hands on a lot of ceramics.  I try to examine chop marks, shapes, curves, textures and the small details that each pot posses.  Texture is important because how the clay feels can give you clues to the maker, age and area where the pot was created.  Feeling the surfaces of the pot can also help in finding old repairs and imperfections.

In this post, we’re going to examine the slight differences in not one, not two, but three Maruhei pots!  I will also talk a little bit about imperfections in pots that are purposely shown off.  Lets take a look at the photos and see the differences!

So here is a Maruhei pot that I purchased back in April of 2012.  Big lip and not much patina.  Lets call this pot M1.

Here is the chop mark at the underside of M1.

Here is a picture of the second Maruhei pot I found.  Lets refer to this one as M2.  See any difference yet?

Here is a shot of the top of M2.  Note how much more patina there is on the lip of this pot.  M2 is already much older looking than M1.  There’s also a gold line on the bottom left of the pot.  What is that all about?

Here’s a closer look at the painted line.  At one point in time, a large part of the corner broke clean off.  The corner was then glued back on and gold paint was applied to the repair line.  So why do you think this is done?

Here’s the chop on the underside of M2.  Different than M1.  Japanese Ceramic makers will use different chops during different periods of their creative lives.  Sometimes, the artist uses a different chop or signature to signify the higher quality or lower quality of the pot.  Sometimes the chop is different purely because a big chop can’t fit on a very small pot.

Here is another Maruhei pot.  We’ll refer to this one as M3.  Note the clay color difference between M1, M2 & M3.  M3 is slightly darker in clay color.  Also note that the feet on M3 are not cloud feed like M1 & M2.

Here is a shot of the top of M3.  See a big difference?  The shape for the most part is the same but note how there is a drain hole in the center of the pot.  Refer back to the previous photos of M1 & M2 to see what I mean.

Here’s a shot of the underside of M3.  Very different feet.

Here is a close up of the chop on the underside of the pot.  Note there isn’t a signature like M1 & M2 but just a chop.

This shot gives us a closer look at the foot and the exterior sidewall chop of M3.

M1 & M2 both have this cloud shape foot and an exterior chop but in the middle of the sidewall of the pot.

Many Differences

So as we look at these images of this pot, we can see that this particular shape was not always identical.  Perhaps as Maruhei was creating these pots, he decided to change things to improve their look.  Maybe someone placed a special order and said I want straight feet instead of cloud feet.  There could be dozens of reason and we may never know all of them.  So which of the three pots do you like the most?


In the previous post, I didn’t include a picture of a tree in this type of pot.  Many readers did commented and suggested many different types of trees and styles for this unique shaped pot.  Here’s one example of a tree that can be put into this pot.

This Five Needle Pine was in the 85th Kokufu show.  Please excuse the poor photo quality but you get the point.  What do you think? Does it work?

Here’s a close up of the pot itself.  Wait a minute…  There’s something different about it!  The feet are different!  Are any of these pots the same???

(Some) Maruhei Chop

Here are some different chops that Maruhei uses.  These examples are taken from the most current Tokoname pottery catalog.  Note how the long chop example is different from the chop on M2?  (Oh Come on!? They’re not going to make it easy for us are they?)

Here is a picture of the pot from the same catalog.  Note how the feet pictured here matches the feet of the pot used in Kokufu?  What does that tell us?  Either it’s an old photo, or the pot used in Kokufu is fairly new.

Small Differences, Just Like All Of Us

So it’s obvious that Maruhei made this particular pot in slight variations.  It’s important to us that we see these variations and know that they are there.  These slight differences are what makes ceramics so fun to collect.  These are hand-made pots and as the artist’s techniques and personality changes through time, it is reflected in the pottery they create. That’s always a part of art and that’s what makes it exciting and interesting to us.  We’re not just admiring something that was mechanically created, but something that was created by people.  Holding a ceramics pot in my hands is like reading an autobiography of its creator.

Lets Talk Gold!

Gold paint that is!  So what’s with the gold?  Why not repair the crack and hide it instead of highlighting it?

Valuable and rare pots that cracks are many times repaired.  Sometimes the repairs are hidden whereas others are highlighted such as with gold paint.  Sometimes missing pieces are filled in with bronze as well.  The reason why these cracks are highlighted is that in certain occasions, the pot will actually look better because of the imperfection it has.  With the gold, the imperfection is flaunted to draw the viewer’s attention and recognize the beauty of imperfection.  Sometimes this works very well and other times not so much.  In the case of M2, do you think the highlighting works?  If so, can you now just put any tree you’d like in it?  Would the tree have to show some sort of imperfection for the pot to complement it well?  Hopefully in the case of M2, I’ll find out in the future when I try to find a tree for it. 😉

Here’s an example of a rustic looking handmade Yamaaki pot.  It too was repaired and painted with a gold color.

I repaired this pot and applied the gold paint myself.  What do you think?  This Yamaaki pot was purposely made like this to show the extreme differences in refined and rough styles.  With the pot being cracked already, I thought I’d add too it by throwing in the gold to further show the difference between refined and unrefined.  It’s like a Paradox.  A crack that is filled with gold.  Talk about contradictions right?

So was I successful? or was it too much?  Hard to say with the pot alone with no tree in it sometimes.  Once day I hope to find out when I actually have a tree for it.  I guess if it doesn’t work out, I can always use the other side that has no cracks.  😉

Here’s another example of a chip repair that was painted gold on one of the feet.  This pot is a Ko-watari pot (300 year old Chinese).  Instead of just filling in the chip or using the other side, the owner decided to highlight the imperfection.  So what is the owner trying to say?  Perhaps he’s saying, “this pot is so old and it has so little damage,” or “This is an old pot and its proud of its scars.” ???  I like how the pot is just about perfect except for that one imperfection.  It’s subtle and not over board.  Subtlety goes a long way in Bonsai.

For the most part, professionals tend to use pots that are un damaged or try to hide and fix the damaged areas.  On rare occasions though, they will show it off imperfections because it just feels right.  Imperfect beauty is best unplanned.  Normally, people don’t go out of their way to damage a pot just to show it off.  Wabi-Sabi is a term used in Japan to describe an imperfect and unexpected beauty.  One can argue that when we try to create Wabi-Sabi, it ceases to be Wabi-Sabi.

So what I’m trying to say is don’t be too quick to take a hammer to your pot collection just yet.  😉

Looking back at pot M2, would there ever be an instant where I would use this one instead of M1?  Just maybe; and that’s the reason I have it.  😉

Thanks for reading.


***1,002 blog subscribers as of today***

Thank you everyone for reading and following me in my adventures here in Japan.  I’ll keep them coming if you keep on reading!

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12 thoughts on “One Pot To Rule Them All #2

  1. John Kirby says:

    Peter, I have two Maruhei pots, both of similar clay to these. It took years to figure out who the maker was, one had the external stamp and the chop, and the other has an external round stamp, a round stamp on the interior bottom of the pot, the chop and a hand signature……. who’d have know.

  2. Hi Peter, I just found another picture of your favorite pot on web WABI

  3. Ray Stagner says:

    As always, what a pleasure to read your blogs. They are full of important information that are not available to us state side. Thank you.

  4. Joe says:

    Hi Peter,

    Just a quick question….. What kind of gold paint do you use? Is it gold leaf or just a gold coloured paint?


    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Joe,

      Currently I’m using gold color paint. I’m slowly refining my application technique. In the future I’d like to try using real gold on the really expensive pots. Gold leaf was something I thought about trying to work with as well.

      Still lots of experimentation. Will update via the blog when I come up with a good technique.

      Thanks Joe! Take care

  5. Felix Laughlin says:

    Peter, I was delighted to see your post on this pot style. When I was at Kokufu-Ten a few years ago, I saw a pot just like this, and asked one of the NBA Directors about it but could not get much information. It was the most interesting and unusual pot I saw at the exhibit, and have since been trying to find one. If you know where your readers could buy one, please let us know.

    Best regards. Felix

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Felix,

      Though the pot is listed on the Tokaname catalog, but don’t think they’re being made anymore. Most of the time, people look for the ones that have patina, rather than buy a new one. It took me awhile to find them as well. Last kokufu there was one for sale that had great patina and it went for about 1500 dollars.

      I don’t know of a vendor that currently sells one but if you are interest, just send me an email and I can try to find you one. Hopefully at a much cheaper price. 😉

      Thanks as always Felix, take care!

  6. Penny Pawl says:

    Even though still beautiful, I would want the perfect pot for the perfect tree. #3 for me.

  7. mybabyciv says:

    Thank you for the great perspective on the repair/use of antique ceramic! congrats on the 1k subscribers- you have much good information to share! Look forward to seeing you in the states

  8. FRED JANSON says:

    The pot does not seem to provide enough stability needed for that tall bonsai. It just is not rooted enough in the display.

  9. cherylas2009 says:

    Hi Peter,

    your pot comments are particularly interesting as pot quality continues to be very perplexing to me. I am starting to understand it but have a long way to go.

    thank you

  10. Mac says:

    Peter, Thank you for the great post. There is very little in depth information on bonsai pots available in the West. Your insights into the mysteries of bonsai pots is invaluable to the serious bonsai hobbyist. Thank you.

    I saw a video of a presentation you made at one of the bonsai exhibits in the US. Again, information that we don’t get here very often. You went into detail about patina on the pots. And I have a question that wasn’t covered.

    In order to encourage the development of patina on a pot do you make your storage area out side in the weather? I do, but have no idea if it helps or not as it takes a long, long time for it to develop. The only pots I move inside during the winter are a very few pots made of clay that looks to me to be softer than stoneware and I do that to protect them from absorbing water and cracking from being frozen. What is the custom in Japan for working bonsai pots, store outside or store inside? Not talking about ancient rare museum pots but about pots that will be used for what they are intended.

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