400 years of raku pottery

From the 1550-1850s, the tea ceremony was an important and powerful influence on Japanese life. What were created with the tea ceremony were tea cups In the beginning, Temmoku tea cups were imported from China, paired with utensils from Korea. Later, a potter named Shojirou was assigned to produce Raku Ware. Since then many types of wares have been used as tea-related containers and there was a Japanese saying in the past that "Raku first, Hagi second, Karatsu third" meaning that Raku wares were recognized as the perfect cup of tea.

Raku wares share common characteristics with the three-colored glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty, early Persian pottery, and Italian Majolica pottery. The technique of firing and Raku glaze was assumed to be developed from the technique of producing tricolor glazed pottery in the Tang Dynasty and continued to flourish until the Fujian Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries, and later the shape and the firing of Raku’s production techniques were still being developed continuously.

Most of Raku tea cup techniques are hand-crafted and fired in a specially designed kiln. The Raku tea cups are hand-crafted from clay, a technique known around the world since ancient times. But to make a Raku tea cup, there is a unique way of making it. Initially, the clay must be slapped into a flat circle. Then use both palms to gently support or squeeze the clay in to create a teacup shape while still within the palm of your hand and complete the embossed rim of the cup on a circular plank. This is different from dial molding where the clay is formed by pulling the clay from the center outwards. Raku uses a round piece of clay squeezed from the outside into the center to form it.

Raku wares are low-fire pottery. But in the case of black raku wares, the firing temperature is higher than 1200 degrees Celsius, so it cannot be concluded that Raku wares are low-fire pottery.

Raku wares can be divided into two main types: Black Raku and Red Raku. Sometimes it is coated in 3 colors: white, green and yellow. To be applied together from the techniques of firing red and white, green and yellow Raku. The Raku family has kept their traditional firing methods for more than 400 years using two kilns, one for the red raku and the another for the black raku.

Glazing of wares influenced by China's tricolor wares which based on lead-based glazes. But now has switched to frit instead. In the case of red raku wares, the red color is due to the influence of iron in the clay during the firing process. The main components of the glaze are quartz, talc, and frit added to control the melting point of the glaze resulting in a clear or opaque and semi-transparent glazing. The key ingredient of the black raku glaze consists of natural stones brought from the headwaters of the Kamo River in Kyoto.

Another highlight of Raku wares is the clay that passed down from generation to generation. The Raku family will find and conserve land suitable for future generations. Currently, the 15th generation Kishichaemon Raku uses the clay that his great-grandfather, Konyo, 2nd generation Raku has provided and has been conserving this land for more than 100 years. The clay is gradually accumulated more in each generation which is not only used for that generation but also to be reserved for future generations.