The footring is the most important physical feature of a chawan. This is why potters can fail abysmally when they attempt to make a chawan - their foot ring is an afterthought. On the contrary, the footring makes the chawan for any tea person.
(‘Footring’ (kōdai) is used here as a general reference to the base of the chawan: the footring and surrounding clay which includes the kōdai-waki and kōdai-uchi.)
The footring is hidden from sight when a chawan is displayed. When a tea person picks up a chawan they are drawn to, the first thing they will do is turn it over and look at the footring (art dealers know this very well). If the footring is sexy, the tea person will examine the bowl more closely. If the footring is over-manufactured, does not suggest natural processes, or looks like an afterthought, the chawan goes back on the shelf, forgotten.
The footring is so important because it balances the chawan, gives the user a handle and symbolises the hidden beauty, potentiality and the negative space of the vessel. We gain a sense of profundity (yūgen) from knowing there is beauty sitting in the shadows. When we overturn the rock, does the raven call?
The host needs to grip the chawan well and their ‘love handle’ is the footring. On a practical note, the footring saves the tea person’s fingers from being burnt from the heat transfer of the boiling water in the belly of the bowl. On an artistic note, the rawness of the footring enhances the spirit and emotion the host develops in their temae (tea preparation ceremony). A tea person can feel the subtle workings of nature through their fingertips and translate this into an air of reverence for Earth through their tea. Would you rather pick up and drink whisky from an IKEA tumbler or cut German crystal? Only one releases the serpent in the depths of the drop.
A despairing number of potters neglect the importance of the footring. Such potters have probably never bothered to learn a bit about tea, how a chawan is used in a tea gathering and how a chawan is evaluated by people who love their tea. If pots from the ‘Land of Forgotten Footrings’ come with a high price, their makers look foolish.
A footring shouldn’t be over-manufactured. It should show fire-frozen spontaneity and breathe the essence of the clay. At the same time, a footring should sit well on the tatami, like the chawan is a natural eruption from the earth. A just harvest.
The best comment on crafting a foot ring I ever heard was from a master potter who has inhabited Wichita, New South Wales and outback Kyoto. He said:
“A footring should be completed in three cleaves of a bamboo blade. Bamboo leaves the most interesting marks. First you cut out the inside part of the ring (kōdai-uchi & tokin) in one go. Then you scrape one side of the outer footring, turn the chawan a little and whop some clay from the other side. One, two, three. As the two cuts on the outside of the footring require you to cut 180 degrees or more around the footring in one action, the movement becomes awkward - this produces unexpected, spontaneous results you can’t control. Tea people go nuts over that sorta sh*t. You must resist the urge to go back and manufacture spontaneity - you’ll be caught out every time by people who can really see the value of what you do.”
- Adam Sōmu Wojciński, Marseille, 2019