Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor: 202.357.4880 ext. 319
Barbara Kram: 202.357.4880 ext. 219
Public only: 202.357.2700

Dinner for Five: Japanese Serving Dishes for Elegant Meals

From March 4 through Oct. 21, 2001 the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art (Jefferson Drive and 12th Street S.W.) presents “Dinner for Five: Japanese Serving Dishes for Elegant Meals,” a small exhibition of ceramic dishes made for kaiseki, a light multi-course meal served as part of tea ceremony gatherings, as well as for meals served in elegant restaurant settings.

In this fast-paced American society, we are accustomed to eating on the run out of paper bags. Even when we linger at a restaurant to savor a meal, the interior decoration and ambiance of the space are usually considered more important than the tableware. In Japan however, presentation of the food and the design of the tableware are considered crucial to a meal’s success. Japanese attention to the importance of the seasons influence the design of ceramic tableware, which is often decorated using themes and colors that enhance each season’s food. In restaurants, meals are often served in rooms that are decorated with seasonal flowers and a hanging scroll.

The number of participants is also carefully formulated for while any number of guests may be invited to Western festivities, four is considered to be an unlucky number in Japan. The custom therefore became to invite guests in parties of five or multiples of five, and five became the standard number in a set of food dishes, which include both lacquered vessels and ceramic ware, according to the course that is being served. This small exhibition demonstrates the variety in color, shape and decoration that can be found among the Freer’s collection of Japanese ceramic serving dishes for elegant meals.

Objects on view include:

  • a set of ten porcelain Arita-ware dishes for sashimi with their cedar storage box
  • a copper-green Momoyama or early Edo period (ca. 1610-1630) Oribe-ware dish with a central motif depicting a donkey carrying a rider
  • a set of five earthenware dishes with assorted flower and grass designs manufactured in Kyoto in the Kenzan style
  • a Kiyomizu-ware serving bowl from the Edo period (ca. 1790-1825) in the shape of a woven straw hat
  • a Nabeshima-ware enameled porcelain plate with a bold blue and red chintz textile pattern
  • a set of five, scallop-edged boat-shaped Utsutsugawa-ware serving dishes from the Edo period (1700-1750) with designs of waves and reeds
  • an Edo period(1650-1700) fluted Arita-ware porcelain serving dish with a chocolate brown glaze and a maple leaf in the center
  • a Mino-ware serving dish from the Momoyama period (late 16th century) decorated with brown grasses
  • a set of five, mismatched Arita-ware and Kyoto-ware ceramic vessels illustrating the artful combination of dishes from incomplete sets to form a harmonious whole
  • a hanging scroll depicting a freshly caught bonito displayed on a piece of bamboo-grass

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at