In the rarefied world of Japanese tea ceremony, innovations have often been greeted coolly. When the Japanese-American abstract sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-88) gave a tea kettle of his own making to the landscape designer and tea connoisseur Mirei Shigemori (1896-75), the recipient was baffled.

"It violates every concept of what a conventional tea kettle should be," said Shigemori. "Noguchi doesn't understand what 'new' means for tea."

What new can mean is the theme of the recent exhibition "When Japan's Tea Ceremony Artisans Meet Minpaku's Collections" at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka (Minpaku). In this experiment, the Senke Jusshoku (10 designated craft-producing families for Senke) were brought to the museum, where the entire collection stored there — a quarter of a million items — was made available to them. Their brief was to seek inspiration from a small selection of objects according to their personal aesthetic inclinations, then refine their choice to a single object and create something new based on their own time-honored traditions.