As many of you probably know, I’ve got a little obsession with tea robots. In my quest to learn more, I think I may have stumbled upon what could possibly be the original tea robot, Chahakobi Ningyo.
Created in Japan (it is a robot, after all), the Chahakobi Ningyo is one of the finest examples of a Karakuri, an amazingly complex type of what most Westerners would call a marionette. Used mainly for the luxury of feudal lords during the Edo period (1603-1868), these little inventions ran on a sort of clockwork mechanism.
Specifically, the mechanism of the Chahakobi Ningyo was activated when someone (say, the Emperor’s servant) placed a cup of tea on the robot’s tray. This caused the robot to move forward (hopefully towards His Highness), stopping when then cup was removed (and, if it was Tavalon tea, thoroughly enjoyed). Therefore, the name of this robot roughly translates to “tea-serving doll.” But I prefer tea robot.
(sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a video of some of the more popular Karakuri – the last is Chahakobi Ningyo!)
I’m amazed not only by the intricate design of these mini-machines, but also the lengths that folks obviously went, even back then, for the enjoyment of tea.
Truly inspiring, even today!