Raku ware (楽焼, raku-yaki) - is a famed type of Japanese pottery traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, most often in the form of chawan tea bowls. Raku ware are usually hand-shaped (rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel) lightweight porous vessels decorated with lead glazes. Hand-sculpted and glazed wares are being removed from the kiln while they are still hot and allowed to cool in open air.
Japanese raku has no relationship to Western raku technique. They are scorched at low temperatures (900–1200°F or 500–650°C) in kilns burned with charcoal.
The black raku tea bowl made by Chojiro, the first master of a raku school, has no unusual form, coloration or ornament. It was commissioned by the tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu in the second half of the 16th century. It fits nicely in your hands and is made to feel as if you are embracing clay. In this small imperceptible bowl for the tea ceremony (chawan), was evinced a deep understanding of the unassuming beauty of naturalness (wabi) by Sen no Rikyu and Chojiro, who devoted their entire lives to its creation during the Momoyama period, when people were more attracted to external splendor.
History of Raku
The Raku tea bowls for the first time ever were made by the famous potter Tanaka Chojiro (~1589), the founding father of the Raku family. Historical evidence shows that Chojiro manufactured ridge tiles for shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi's palace in 1574, most probably Chojiro was shogun’s potter.
It is recorded that in 1584, Toyotomi presented him with a seal inscribed with the character 楽, raku, meaning enjoyment, comfort, pleasure, happiness. Later the grandfather of Chojiro’s wife Sokei Tanaka adopted this "Raku" as the family name. For some time Chojiro worked for Sen no Rikyu, the master of tea, at whose request he created tea bowls to be used in chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony. Chojiro made bowls that were either entirely red or entirely black glazed soft pottery. Simple and without decoration, which were meant to reflect wabi ideals.
Although Sokei and his first son Somi (Chojiro’s father in law) were deeply involved in the creation activity of the Raku family, Jokei (the second son of Sokei) became the second leader of the Raku family and was adopted by Chojiro. After that Jokei took the name Kichizaemon for the first time.
The third leader was Donyu (the first son of Jokei). Donyu, was an expert of Raku-yaki and he is widely credited with perfecting the technique of glaze (Personal techniques of glazing could be found in every following generation of raku family masters. Each generation also marked their creations with a personal seal). Also he was the only leader who did not take the name Kichizaemon.
After that, successive leaders up to the fifteenth of today have created various works.
Raku Seinyu XIII (1887-1944) was the thirteenth-generation ceramic master who led the Raku family through some large scale changes in Japanese society. Besides that, he explored the techniques and glazes more than any of his ancestors. During the period between 1935 and 1945, he even published his researches in the magazine named Sado Seseragi.
Raku family pottery and techniques became highly influential in Japanese culture and throughout the world. The today methods of Raku family productions are essentially the same as that used by Chojiro.
The Raku family is still active today into the fifteenth generation. The fifteenth Kichizaemon RAKU (1949-), present leader. Real name is Mitsuhiro. Succeed the name in November, 1981. He won numerous awards, including the Japan Ceramic Society’s Gold Prize and the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He also designed his own gallery and tea house for the Sagawa Art Museum. In 1997, he received the Oribe prize.
Raku family tree
If you want to learn more about Raku family and it’s members, pay a visit to resources section:
Infographic: Wlada Morgun
Text: Wlada Morgun