What Is Raku Pottery? The Ultimate Guide
What is raku pottery? In one of my previous posts, I discussed the Japanese tea ceremony. In that post, I mentioned the different types of pottery that were used in the ceremonies hundreds of years ago. However, I failed to mention another important type of Japanese pottery: Raku pottery or ware.
You might be wondering, “What is raku?” if you’ve never heard about it before. Luckily, this beginner’s guide will tell you everything you need to know about raku ceramics. With this historical and artistic information, you can be sure you’ll be one of the most interesting people in any group.
What Is Raku Pottery
Raku pottery is a type of pottery favored in Japan for hundreds of years. In fact, it even remains popular among today’s potters because of it’s unique look and firing process. It is actually the raku firing process in part that produces the appearance of raku ceramics.
Firing raku pottery involves low heat rather than high heat as with other ceramics. Also, the raku pottery is not in the kiln for very long. As soon as it becomes red-hot, the pottery is removed from the kiln and placed in a container with burnable materials.
As soon as these materials catch on fire, the container is closed so the pottery can continue to be fired. It is only at this point inside the hot container that changes the color of the clay and any glaze covering the clay. Then, the pottery is plunged into cold water to suddenly stop the firing process. Cracks also begin to form in the clay, but this is actually a deliberate result of the sudden cooling of the pottery.
What is unique about raku ceramics is that they are not perfect in appearance and that is precisely the point. This type of pottery is crafted by hand and traditionally glazed with lead. The beauty of this pottery is not about elegance and elaborateness but rather about natural forms and simplicity.
In Japan, this was an art movement known as wabi. The simpler the pottery, the more esteemed it was, especially for tea masters who would hand-pick pieces of pottery for when they would host tea ceremonies. Each piece of raku ware would be unique since it would be shaped by the hand of the potter rather than a wheel.
The History of Raku Ceramics
Raku pottery originates in the 1550s with the Buddhist masters. The Buddhists had their own tea ceremony and they favored raku ware above all other ceramics because of its naturalness and simplicity. Even the method of firing this pottery is the most natural you can get.
It is believed that raku has its origins in the town of Kyoto. Certain potters who lived in the area during the 16th century such were sometimes commissioned by the Zen Buddhist masters to create special tea vessels for ceremonies. Creating pottery for tea ceremonies was always a booming business, especially in the past.
The Details of Raku Pottery
The convenient thing about raku pottery is that any kind of clay can be used to create it. However, there are certain characteristics that clay needs to have in order to survive the raku firing process. Raku clay is resistant to thermal shock and will not shrink very much when heated.
Choosing the best glaze is extremely important. This is because the glaze is going to give raku some of its most stunning characteristics. Glaze is usually neutral shades of brown, green, or beige.
Glazes were traditionally lead-based, but since with modern knowledge we know that lead is unsafe, lead glazes are rarely used anymore. However, this does not necessarily mean that you can eat or drink out of your raku ware vessels. Even though people have been drinking out of raku pottery for ages, the glaze of raku tends to chip over time and can easily be swallowed which can be unsafe.
Instead, raku ware can remain a great decoration. By having a piece of raku pottery in your home, you can keep a piece of Japanese history and culture to yourself.