Monday, May 11, 2009


It's was quite a busy weekend, my brother-in-law's wedding and Mother's day on Sunday. Since my in-laws are Korean, the wedding was conducted in Korean and 97% of the guests were Korean. So what can I learn from a Korean wedding? Of course, the nature subjects of my choice were korean art, pottery and tea. A close friend of my wife is moving back to Seoul by the end of June, whose husband's family has a vacation house in Jeju island (The island of green tea). I'd think he might know one or two things about korean tea and pottery, since his families fly there every weekends. "I am learning about Onggi." I said. "Onggi? what kind of onggi? for what?" He replied. "Kimchi Onggi, those big ones...." I continued. "Onggi means small jar with cover, not those big ones." The conversation kind of ended there... to my surprise, most of younger generations tend to lean towards Japanese or Western culture, rather than digging up deep to their own. The words, Edo style tea bowl, JakSul Cha or Onggi don't have any meaning to them comparing to the older generation... or perhaps I am just too boring to talk about pottery in a wedding?

From my trip to the deep mountain and old temples in southern Korea, there is one necessity which old Korean culture can't do without. Fermented food is a huge part of this ancient culture, without it this nation wouldn't have been able to sustain it's cold long winter season. Onggi is like a fridge or food market of the old times, learning the art of this essential piece of daily utensil could open a direct path to its culture. Kimchi, bean paste (Doenjang), pickled veggie or seafood, sauces and even tea are fermented in these kind of covered jar outdoors. The normal size is around 3-5 feet in height, and made with clay more or less like Yixing zisha. A plastic type of clay which is usually built or molded rather than thrown.

Through some research and links, I found an young Artist who practices this traditional art in the US. Adam Field was kind enough to open his door to my persistent, questions-filled, curious heart. Over a couple of emails and phone conversations, I had found another sincere artist through the faith of tea. "Have you tried aging water through your Onggis?" I asked, "They might change the taste and lighten the water for making tea..." I continue: " Perhaps if you age tea in it, it will promote healthy aging also." We were both fascinated with each other's knowledge, and there are something beautiful and fruitful to be shared among us. Mr. Field took 10 months last year to learn the art of Onggi in southern Korea, and brought back the seeds of this lost tradition to the states for further development. This honest and respectful journey had planted a very positive seed in my mind for his dedication, which I truly can appreciate. That is exactly what I did for my passion for tea, if you don't travel and paid respect to the tradition, how could one truly experience the meaning of the Art?

Mr. Field will be conducting an Onggi tour to Korea this coming fall, following a trip to yixing. I would love to join this historical adventure if my schedule allows.


Chris C. said...

Hello there. Michael Hunt of Bandana Pottery also studied Onggi in Korea. He and Naomi Dalish documented their recent trip to Korea and the subsequent exhibition in their blog: It's got some really great info and pics!

toki said...

Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by. Seems like Onggi is getting a hold in the States? That's are very welcoming sign, and I am very happy to let more people know about this amazing work of art.

So, anyone besides Adam, Michael and Naomi you know who are into this tradition?

Cheers -T

author said...

These onggi are beautiful; thank you for introducing me to them. However they also remind me of the traditional Greek vases used for storage and probably similar use to the onggi - they have been made in all sizes and shapes, some huge for use as water cisterns,and especially for storage of olive oil, wines, etc. We view them as decorative but they were highly functional. In ancient cuisines these vessels were also used for fermenting and aging foods, cooking sauces, etc.

I have also taken a look at a link to a Korean studio on the Bandana site and I love the work of Lee Kang Hyo there.

Thanks T for always introducing me to new things. Your wife and her family are very lucky that you have such an appreciation of culture.

Matt said...


It's true that onggi is synonymous with kimchi although it fits well with the precepts of Korean tea culture to use them as tea jars.

Did you check out the traditional Onggi kiln when you were in Boseong?


toki said...

Glad That you enjoy Author : )

Yes Matt. I saw many tea farmers using onggi to store tea, not just in Boseong, but all over. Before the visit, I just stereotype this important piece of tradition, without understanding it sincerely, much like most thing in my life : ) Hope I am not too late to catch up.

Michel said...

simply beautifull

P said...

I would like to send you some information about an event called Tea Cart Stories with the artist Michele Brody ( )

Do you have an e-mail address through which I could contact you?

Thank you,

toki said...

Penny, you can contact me at

Cho Hak said...

I thought I should add to this onggi post as Adam Field was to host a tour for us last fall that focused on the OEUK 2009 Onggi Exposition Ulsan Korea. Adam had to drop out due to a family matter. The exposition actually never took place as Korea canceled several events due to the Swine Flu scare. They canceled just a week or two before the event so my wife and I took a small group to Ulsan onggi where we were treated very well and saw some great exhibits that were not canceled and hosted a ceramic tour of Korea. I have 40 years experience with Korean ceramics including onggi but I specialize on tea ware. You can learn more about Korean onggi at our web site You will also find a link to our Korean tea web site on the links page of that site.

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