Chawan originated in China. The earliest chawan in Japan were imported from China between the 13th through the 16th century. The Jian chawan, a Chinese tea bowl known as Tenmoku chawan in Japan, was the preferred tea bowl for the Japanese tea ceremony up until the 16th century. In Japan, tea was also mainly drunk from this Chinese variety of tea bowls up till about the 15th century. The Japanese term tenmoku is derived from the name of the Tianmu Mountain, where Japanese priests acquired these tea bowls from the Chinese temples to bring back to Japan.
By the end of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as the custom of tea drinking spread throughout Japan and the Tenmoku chawan became desired by all ranks of society, the Japanese began to made their own copies in Seto(in present day Aichi Prefecture). Although the Tenmoku chawan was derived from the original Chinese that came in various colors, shapes, and designs, the Japanese particularly liked the bowls with a tapered shape, so most Seto-made Tenmoku chawan had this shape.
With the rise of the wabi tea ceremony in the late Muromachi period (1336–1573), the Ido chawan, a variety of Korean bowls mainly used for rice in Korea, also became highly prized in Japan. Korean bowls were a favourite of Sen no Rikyu because of their rough simplicity.