As I stated on the home page, this is a later addition to the collection, of
interest to me because they meet the ‘two hole’ rule, and because I wanted some
traditional versions of a cow, bull, ox or water buffalo from the lactose intolerant
populations of the Far East... and also, as noted below, because my wife got me
hooked on them.
Probably the best overall explanation of suiteki that I have found comes from a
very informative article at the Japanese
Art and Architecture Net Users System (JAANUS) web site, from which -- and I
quote – we learn that the Japanese term Suiteki means:
I sure hope JAANUS doesn’t mind my passing on their information to cow-creamer
I have my wife (a calligrapher among her other talents) to thank, or
perhaps to blame, for this extension of the collection, since she bought me
this lovely porcelain water dropper (it’s missing a horn) in a Hong Kong
antique shop while I was busy on business. It was the only one I had, with no
intention of acquiring more, until we visited Japan a couple years later
We noticed three cows among this 19c Edo period bronze water dropper
collection in the Tokyo National Museum. Naturally enough, since for some
reason the museum didn’t want to part with them, I started hitting the web to
learn more about them. There’s also a (pricey) book entitled “Suiteki - The
Art of Bronze Water Droppers” if you really want to get serious.
I may not have been able to buy the bronze cow suiteki that were in the
museum, but I have managed to acquire a few lovely examples, such as these
simple reclining beasts. The larger and fatter one came to me from Kumamoto,
on the western shore of Kyushu. The other arrived from Okayama in southern
Honshu. Many of my other Japanese suiteki feature what would seem to be
working bulls or water buffalo, but these are pretty clearly cows for milking
or more likely for eating. The fatter one looks like it would be great for the
world renowned Kobe Beef. Both are beautifully molded and cast, and the
smaller one even has the leg beneath depicted.
This lovely bronze Japanese suiteki of a reclining water buffalo has its own
wooden box, and came marked as 19c Tokugawa era. The seller notes he acquired
it from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. I’d be delighted to learn the
English translation of the Japanese characters on the box and its attached
I'll let the seller's description (on Ebay) suffice for this one: "There are a dirt, and deterioration because it is an old thing. This is buffalo shape Suiteki (water jug) made of Bronze ware. Suiteki is a container where the water used for the ink stone is put in. There is a signature.(旭峰堂). It is externals with the presence very much. It is a very superior ornament. A very exact carving is given over the detail. A subtle, grand goldsmith technology as our imagination exceeds is poured ..how much time and time were required for completion...It takes pride in the dignified atmosphere. The number of such elaborate works has decreased."
Here is a well-crafted but rather unusual bronze Japanese suiteki. The bull appears
to be in considerable pain with its eyes wide, right foreleg raised, and a small animal
clinging to its rump. I can’t figure out what that animal is – but presumably it has
claws and is more interested in meat than companionship. There may well be a story or
‘fairy tale’ that goes with it, but the Japanese seller provided no information.
This heavy (480g) bronze reclining cow suiteki was made in two pieces, with the closely fitting base welded or glued into the top. the small drop hole is on the tip of its nose between the nostrils. The cow has a bump on its forehead which is either a beetle or, more likely, a small simple Buddha figure. There is a large bizen suiteki further down the page that also has a Buddha on its forehead so I'm pretty sure that's what it was meant to be. The seller, from Hyogo Japan, said it was post-1940 although it looks to me to have a bit of age. But then I was born in 1940 and I too have a bit of age...
This small but very well done early 20c copper or bronze suiteki of a boy
with a flute riding a water buffalo came to me from Okayama, Japan, which is about
half-way between Kobe and Hiroshima. The seller told me that the boy or man
riding a water buffalo is a traditional theme of Zen Buddhism – which of course
sent me to digging through the web. I learned that this is a representation of
the sixth stage from an early Taoist story of the ‘Ten Bulls’ that (according to
Wikipedia) may represent a Zen Buddhist interpretation of
stages experienced by
a Bodhisattva as outlined
sūtras. The wikipedia article states that the story as
related by the 12c Chinese Zen master Kuòān Shīyuǎn has pictures, poems and short
pieces of prose that “tell how the student ventures into the wilderness in his
search for "the Bull" (or "Ox"; a common metaphor for
enlightenment, or the true self, or simply a regular human being), and how his
efforts prove fruitless at first. Undeterred, he keeps searching and eventually
finds footprints on a riverbank. When he sees the bull for the first time he is
amazed by the splendour of its features ('empty and marvelous' is a well known
phrase used to describe the perception of Buddha nature). However, the student has
not tamed the bull, and must work hard to bring it under control. Eventually he
reaches the highest Enlightenment, returns to the world and ‘everyone I look upoon
becomes enlightened’.” The sixth stage has the man riding the bull home in great
joy, and in the 12c picture he is playing a flute. Whether or not this is the
correct interpretation of this suiteki, many in my collection – Chinese as well
as Japanese – feature a person riding, climbing or lying on a standing or
reclining bull (water buffalo).
Here is another older Japanese bronze with a similar theme – in this case,
both the man and the ‘bull’ are peacefully reclining.
Here is a nice pair of reclining bronze Japanese water buffalo – great
detail, down to the rope through the nose. One of these came to me from
California a couple years ago – then I couldn’t resist its twin, which arrived
direct from a seller in Tottori-shi, Tottori-ken, Japan. That of course sent me
to the web, where I learned that Tottori Prefecture, located in the Chugoku region
of southwest Honshu, is the least populous prefecture in Japan, and has the
nation’s only large area of sand dunes. From Wikipedia, always the source of fun
information, I found that ‘The word "Tottori" in Japanese is formed from
characters. The first, 鳥, means
"bird" and the
means "to get". Early residents in the area made their living catching
the region's plentiful waterfowl. The name first appears in
shoki in the 23rd year of
Suiko when Yukuha Tana, an elder from the Izumo, visits the
emperor. The imperial Prince Homatsu-wake was unable to speak, despite being 30
years of age: "Yukuha Tana presented the swan to the emperor. Homatsu-wake no
Mikoto played with this swan and at last learned to speak. Therefore, Yukaha Tana
was liberally rewarded, and was granted the title of Tottori no
This very heavy bronze, well made suiteki with a mythical beast in a
medallion on each side and a very lerge ornate handle is said to be Meiji
(1868-1912) from the late Edo period, and has a 3-character maker’s mark on the
bottom. It came from the collection of Masayuki Sashide of Yokohama, who was a
well known collector as well as dealer. It was acquired by another knowledgeable
collector/dealer who became closely acquainted with Sashide while he lived in
Yokohama in 2009-2010. He called it a robust water buffalo, and given the
provenance I think that’s what it is intended to represent.
Here is a very similar suiteki, differing from the one above in the nature
of the lid and the designs on the side – here a large dragon on the left, and
a mythical bird on the right. I have since seen several others for offer on Ebay, often described as some sort of bird or mythical beast.
This adorable little porcelain bull with a conical hat on its back is Seto
ware, and was said by the knowledgeable seller to be about a hundred years old.
Of course I scampered to the web to find out a bit about Seto, which is in Aichi
Prefecture, some 20 km NE of Nagoya. I learned that Seto is one of Japan’s most
important ancient kiln towns (along with Bizen, Echizen, Tokoname, Shigaraki and
Tanba), and indeed is so closely associated with ceramics that ‘setomono’ (瀬戸
物)which translates simply as seto ware, is the Japanese generic name for
pottery. Ceramic production in Seto dates back to the Heian period (794-1185),
but according to one of the web sources became prominent in the 13C when the
craftsman Toshiro Kato set up his kiln there on his return from China where he
learned porcelain production. He selected Seto because of its two types of high
quality clay (kibushi and gaerome), and naturally enough a number of other
artisans followed his lead. These days Seto is noted for its several ceramics
museums and festivals, as well as ceramic production which now includes industrial
appliances as well as artistic pieces.
This boy on his ox or water buffalo is also Seto-ware, from the Meiji (1868-1912) period. He is colorfully dressed and has a top-knot. Apparently the potter had a bit of a sense of humnor because the finger hole used to control the water flow is located directly in the midle of the boy's butt. I got it at a rock-bottom price (in spite of my bid on esnipe) because for some reason not one else bid on it and the knowledgavble Japanese seller rom Tottori-shi starded the bidding low.
This is another very idiosyncratic but modern Japanese suiteki. Its shape
reminds me very much of an ancient Amlash culture bull rhyton, but whether that –
or a bad dream – was the inspiration I really don’t know. It came in a beautiful
wooden box that contained a paper telling a bit about the ceramicist, Tatsuo
Amano. The seller gave me a partial translation, stating that he was “Born in
Showa 7 (1932) in Kyoto, Learned pottery skills under Gorosuke Asami, Kunio
Uchida, Kaizan Shinkai and Rokubei Zhimizu VI., Established his own kiln in Showa
30 (1955) in Senryuji, Kyoto city and mainly produced flower vases. He is a member
of the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, Nihon sinkougei and so on.”
This very fine Japanese example, a small resting porcelain Bull, is from
the early Showa period, ca 1930. I acquired it from a Honolulu antique store.
This very cute small blue-eyed ceramic Japanese suiteki came to me from Nagasaki. The seller said
(in 2019) that he thought it was about 40 years old.
This rather large suiteki cow with the long bushy tail has a little
Buddha-like figure on its forehead. The seller said it was 50-100 years old. It
is bizen-ware, an iron-hard, wood fired unglazed type of pottery. Wikipedia notes
that “Bizen is named after the village of Imbe
prefecture, formerly Bizen Province (on the southern coast
of western Honshu). This artwork is Japan's oldest pottery making technique,
introduced in the Heian
period. Bizen is one of the six remaining kilns of medieval
Here is a second bizen ware or, as the Japanese seller called it, bizen-yaki suiteki, this time in the form
of a seemingly well fed and contented reclining cow. The seller states that it dates from the Japanese Meiji
period, 1868-1912, and notes that bizen does not have glaze applied, rather that a sort of natural glaze
develops in the kiln. He also says, "sometimes we represent it with a Wabi-Sabi". I dashed to Wikipedia for
help with that, and discovered that "In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view
centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of
beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching
of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), suffering (苦 ku) and
emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū).Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry,
roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of
natural objects and processes....According to Leonard Koren, wabi-sabi can be defined as 'the most
conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same
position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the
far West.' Whereas Andrew Juniper notes that 'If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense
of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.' For Richard
Powell, 'Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts,
nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.'" This lovely piece does have a tiny chip on the tip of the left
horn, but given the above definitions, that seems totally appropriate.
This very cute little bull or cow of white clay with heavy black glaze is
Kyoto ware, also known as Kiyomizu-yaki . It dates from ~1985 and was made by and
marked for Kenji Suzuki (1935-2010), a renowned Kyoto artist who is succeeded by
his sons Kenji II and Takuji. One blog on the web states that he said he used
glazes from the ash of an orange tree or bamboo near his home.
This interesting Japanese celadon suiteki of unknown date – but not new -
came from Kobe.
This simple but lovely rectangular water dropper with a raised sleeping cow
is also presumably Japanese. I have seen it offered in dark brown as
This is an interesting heavy suiteki of a boy on a water buffalo, possibly
Korean. It has lost its left horn.
Moving now to Chinese calligraphy instruments, let's start with one that's not a water dropper but rather a lovely 'water pot' - with a large hole on the top and no 2nd or pouring hole - used for washing brushes. This is another exception to my rule, but it's very well made and accompanies the water droppers and other 'scholar's' implements for writing and painting. Japanese versions of such water pots are often referred to (on ebay at least) as suiteki suichi, but I have no idea what term the Chinese use. This water buffalo or bull is
particularly beautiful as well as quite large (7” long). It is glazed in what the seller termed ‘sang de
boeuf’. From Carters.com we learn that “Flambé
glazes, termed ‘sang-de-boeuf’ (ox blood) were in use by the Chinese from the 11th
century, and the effect was achieved by using copper oxide as a colouring agent
and firing the object in a reducing atmosphere. In the 18th century the red glaze
often accumulated on the shoulders of vases and bowls, reproducing the effect of
coagulated blood. Sometimes the glaze was often slightly streaked, or included
blue bleeds and wares with these features were prized by collectors in the 19th
century. European potters were not able to master the technique until the early
20th century.” The glaze on this pot seems to me to be somewhat too light for
that, and is mottled with a grey-green background and dark green occasional
spots. Perhaps some expert can enlighten me. Like other of my vintage Chinese
pieces the bottom is rough and unglazed. It came to me from northern Wales, but the seller said she bought
it at an antique center in Singapore around the turn of the millennium.
Here is a second Chinese water pot, a black stone reclining water buffalo with a lid with a bird on top. It's modern, post
1940 according to the seller's description.
This pair of early earthenware Chinese water droppers picture what the
seller said were ‘immortals’ riding water buffalo or bulls. The bulls and the
fronts of the men (but not their faces or backs) are coated with Sancai
which (again turning to Wikipedia for information) translates as ‘three colors’
and “ is a type of lead-glazed
oxide was the principal flux in the
glaze, often mixed
with quartz in
the proportion of 3:1. The polychrome effect was obtained by using as coloring
(which turns green), iron (which turns
brownish yellow), and less
often manganese and cobalt (which turns blue).” The seller said that this pair
came from a large Chinese collection and is 17c Qing or Kangxi. The Ming Dynasty
lasted from 1368-1644, and was followed by the Qing (last Imperial) dynasty which
lasted until 1912. Kangxi (4 May 1654-20 December 1722), considered one of China’s greatest emperors and the longest-reigning, was the 4th
Qing emperor, and ruled for 61 years, from
1661-1722. It would take an expert to verify this attribution or narrow things
down a bit and I’m certainly not one, but at the very least it makes a good story
and these very interesting water droppers are fully appropriate to lead off my
Chinese water dropper area.
This kneeling green glazed water buffalo water dropper with a large opening in its back is said to be Ming Dynasty, and to date from @1600. I'm pretty sure that this is a correct attribution, because this lovely small glazed clay water dropper came from the collection and estate of Tom Accatino, who - according to a 2012 article in the Riverside Press=Enterprise - along with his wife Christine was a noted art collector. The article states that they gifted some of their art to local museums in their trust, and presumably the ramainder was sold. This truly a lovely small piece, and came to me at a very reasonable perice.
||This nicely molded long-snouted water buffalo with a faceless rider that
appears to be mostly lying down, has a deep caramel glaze above but is unglazed
below. The seller said it came from the estate of a former marina operator who had
an extensive and quite fine Chinese collection, and although he himself knew
nothing about it, it had a tag reading Ching (Qing) Dynasty, Tao Kuang Period
This silver kneeling bull with a little cup on a hinge under its chin is
also Chinese. It seems to me a very clever way of controlling how much water you get and use - and may work for a bit of washing or wetting a brush as well as getting the appropriate amount for the ink. I have seen horse and sheep versions of this form.
This is a very bright Qing Dynasty water dropper – the seller called it an
antelope but it looks like a fanciful bull or water buffalo to me. It’s very
pretty in any case. It comes in other colors also - all of them quite
This little lying down celadon cow is also Chinese, and probably also Qing dynasty – certainly not a
here is a well fashioned simple blue cow Chinese water dropper - unmarked, but like the one above with some age and almost certainly intended for a scholar, not simply a modern reproduction. From the positions of the fill hole and head, it would appear to be most easily used in the left hand.
Boys apparently like to climb onto the back of water buffalo. Here are 4
versions – the reddish one with the boy with a light colored head is a
modern water dropper made of Yixing clay . This clay, from the region near Yixing
in Jiangsu province, has been used since the Song Dynasty and is very popular for
teapots because their unglazed surfaces absorb traces of the contents, leading to
a more complex flavor…thus they should never be washed with detergents, or used
for more than one type of tea. The bark brown one with the boy with a green shirt
and purple shorts came to me from the Netherlands and was said by the seller to
date from ~1900. Its quality and the look of the clay lead me to believe that’s
not unlikely, and one like this may have served as the model for the others. The
dark green one is less well molded, glazed on the bottom, and
likely somewhat younger. It came to me via an antique shop in Missouri. The
fourth, of brown clay comes from a slightly different mold; the
boy’s head is larger and his face more expressive, and the fill hole if on the
water buffalo’s but rather than the boy’s back.
This is a modern, very well crafted version of the boy climbing onto his water buffalo. What caught my eye about this one is that the fill holes are on the flute. Very clever, and very well done. It is quite definitely Chinese, albeit the seller was from Japan.
Here are three modern Chinese porcelain suiteki all featuring the same
reclining ox or water buffalo – two on a rock and the third on a seal. They all
hail from Bejing.
Here's a very different interpretation of the bull on a rock - though why that seems to be a recurrent theme I don't understand because it certainly can't be comfortable for the bull. The seller of this one said he got it at antique market in China in the late 1990s, though it doesn't appear to be very old.
These are exceedingly large (for a suiteki) modern Chinese water
droppers. I first acquired the red one – couldn’t resist at 99 cents plus postage
– and then found the grey one with the naked boy on top for considerably more, but
with postage paid from Beijing. My wife, a calligrapher, tried them both and says
that the one with the boy has the filler/stopper hole in a much more convenient
location for a right-handed person.
Here’s another fairly large one, a Chinese celadon kneeling ox or water
buffalo, pudgy and cute. It was advertised on eBay as being from the “Long Quan
Kiln” which of course sent me right away to Google. From chinaculture.org and
chinauniquetour.com I learned that “The porcelain of Longquan ware represented a
great school of southern celadon that arose in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It was
manufactured in fairly vast areas in the southwestern part of East China's
Zhejiang Province. The sites of former celadon kilns and workshops are found
throughout the counties of Lishui, Suichang, Yuehe, Qingtian, and Longquan on the
upper Oujiang River, with Longquan as the production center. There were also many
kiln sites in Pucheng along the Songxi River in the northern part of East China's
Fujian Province”…and more, should you care to go to those sites. Wikipedia also
has a nice article about the many kilns in the area. Pretty obviously mine – which
cost ~$9. - does not date from the Song Dynasty; but my attempts to learn more
about current Long Quan kilns from the seller came to naught thanks to his paucity
Although this somewhat crude looking eatrthenware water dropper came from a dealer in Japan, he assured me that
it is Chinese and is 'somewhat older' although he wouldn’t guess at the age. The
air hole is a square in the man’s back, so it was made for a right-handed
calligrapher. The funny little man sitting sideways on his unhappy bull is
barefoot. As is the case with some of my other older Chinese water droppers, the
bottom and base are unglazed.
Two more old men on water buffalo, both seemingly content. The celadon
version, which came from Guangdon China, seems to have been made to be held in the
left hand. Both of these appear to me to be reasonably modern.
Here are three additional Chinese examples.
These two came from the same mold, although I didn’t realize it because
they came at separate times. The darker green on the base one has a ‘seal’ on the
bottom with what look to me like squiggles but are presumably script characters;
the light green one was said to be ‘min kiln’, but although I have found a number
of other ceramic pieces so labels for sale on ebay and elsewhere, I have been
unable to locate a meaningful definition. .
It's not completely clear to me that this is a water dropper, but I couldn't resist the
weird cow on which the Buddha figure is perched. As shown in the back view it has just a single
narrow but wide hole, on top of the chair back against which the Buddha is resting. The opening
is too small for it to serve as a washing pot or some strange sort of vase and when I tried it,
it could indeed drop a controlled amount of water with a finger over the hole. It's pretty
definitely Chinese and not all that modern, and does have some characters on the back but of
course I can't read them. Assistance or comments would be appreciated.
This rather large, stylized, modern water dropper – I’ve seen it offered in
a variety of colors – may not have been intended to be a cow, but then I
occasionally have a rather vivid imagination.
This one also takes a bit of imagination for it to be a cow…the seller said
it was a donkey, but I’ve never seen a donkey with horns. Possibly a sheep but
they don’t generally lie down like that. Thus it’s some variant of water buffalo
or cow-like creature, and at the low price, close enough for me. In addition to
the interesting pattern on its sides, it has a blue stamp with illegible Chinese
characters on the bottom
These four soapstone small Chinese suiteki are fairly old – said by the
seller to come from a “large collection of high quality antiquities from an estate
of the daughter of a former merchant sea captain stationed in Asia.” I’d guess
them to be probably early 20c.
This water buffalo or bull is even older: 15c Vietnamese, recovered from the
Hoi An shipwreck. It even has some marine growth to help attest to its authenticity. The seller, Ethnix Tribal and African Arts of NY (they had a
really neat web site) provided the following information in the eBay description:
“In the mid 15th century a junk loaded with over 250,000 fine examples of
Vietnamese pottery sank to the bottom of the South China Sea in an area called the
Dragons Embrace, 40km off the coast of Vietnam. The shipwreck was discovered by
Vietnamese fishermen who began pulling up huge amounts of pottery in their nets.
Subsequently the Vietnamese government hired a salvage company to recover the
massive amount of sunken treasure which was to be auctioned later in the major
auction houses, in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, etc. As a result, the
Hoi An sunken treasure has provided both financial and scholarly rewards. Sales
proceeds, amounting to tens of millions of dollars, have gone to build museums in
Vietnam and to pay for further excavation and research. With the discovery of
previously unknown ceramic forms and design, the historical and artistic
relationship between Vietnam and China has been redefined and the quality from
this little known chapter of Vietnamese artistic tradition has been
recognized. This piece was purchased in an antique shop in Saigon”. For more
information about the shipwreck, go to http://www.thingsasian.com/ and
search for Hoi An shipwreck.
Really neat stories here.
No, not all cows…but there is a bull in this set of clay Chinese zodiac
suiteki in a brocade box. Cute…couldn’t resist.