The Humble Tea Whisk | Mingei International Museum

"I believe our future lies in building societies with stronger crafts cultures, cultures that are more focused on quality and natural rhythm than on quantity and speed."

Ai Kanazawa is a San Diego local and owner of Entoten, a blog and online gallery dedicated to the art of craft. Through Entoten, Ai shares and promotes the beauty of everyday objects made by hand with attention to detail. Ai believes a strong understanding of craftsmanship functions as a universal language connecting people across cultures.

What does the word Entoten mean?

Entoten means “circle and dot” in Japanese. The objects and the stories found on my website represent the many dots that are joined together to make up a simple and beautiful circle.

Why did you decide to start a blog and an online shop?

In 2010, I studied at a culinary school in San Diego. One day, during a food presentation class, we were told that “food looks best on white plates”. This shocked me because I had a completely different perspective on food presentation growing up with Japanese cuisine. In Japan, we use a variety of different vessels, often handmade, to serve food. Vessels are an important part of the overall presentation. Through Entoten, I want to introduce the culture of connecting handwork to life through our living environment and especially our dining tables. A strong crafts culture requires this connection. I believe our future lies in building societies with stronger crafts cultures, cultures that are more focused on quality and natural rhythm than on quantity and speed.

The Museum recently acquired tea whisks from you made by master chasen maker Tanimura Tango. Can you tell us a little more about Tanimura Tango and the history of his tea whisks?

The humble tea whisk, called chasen in Japanese, is one of the most important utensils to prepare matcha tea. Without a chasen, not a single bowl of matcha can be prepared. In the Japanese Way of Tea, while many other utensils like tea containers and bowls are revered in a gathering, the chasen is overlooked because they are disposable. That is why I’m thrilled Mingei International Museum recognized the importance of tea whisks and acquired them for their collection. The chasen is a perfect utensilhandmade and eco-friendlyand effectively prepares matcha without damaging even the most delicate tea bowl.

For twenty generations the head of Tanimura Tango’s family has been making chasen, which is over 500 years. Tanimura Tango’s ancestors began creating chasen before the tea schools began in Japan, and until the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912), their method of making the chasen was kept secret and only passed on to the eldest son among the families of chasen makers.

On your website, it says Entoten “introduces and promotes the beauty of craft that can be utilized in everyday life.” Do you have another example of an everyday object you believe embodies beauty?

A mug made by a skilled potter is an example of an everyday object that embodies beauty. In America, people often start their day with a cup of coffee, and drinking it is an important ritual. A well-designed handmade mug is beautiful because it is made with care and is charged with a lot more meaning and connection for the user than a mass-produced mug.

How do you find and select artists and objects for Entoten?

I choose to work with artists that create work that I react to emotionally. To put it another way, ‘what they make me feel’ is more important than ‘how they look.’ I also only work with artists whose craft is their main occupation and not a hobby.

You’ve also worked with Shop Mingei, do you have items available in the Shop right now?

Shop Mingei always carries a few items from Entoten, and currently, there is a tea whisk by Tanimura Tango and some painted porcelain bowls by Horihata Ran. Previously, I introduced a Japanese glass artist, Nitta Yoshiko’s work at a Shop Mingei pop-up and I hope to do more events like this when the museum renovation is completed!

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