RAKU YAKI - Prestigious bowlRAKU YAKI - Prestigious bowl

What is Raku-yaki?

Raku-yaki is one of the most famous types of earthenware in Japan. ICHI-RAKU, NI-HAGI, SAN-KARATSU has been said since many years ago, which means that Raku-yaki is first, Hagi-yaki is second, and Karatsu-yaki is third of all earthenware in Japan. In short, Raku-yaki is regarded as the most prestigious and highest ranked earthenware in the tea ceremony.

Raku-yaki has a long history and is thought to have been first made about 450 years ago by Chohjiroh, who is the founder of the Raku family. It is said that Sen no Rikyuh, who is the famous tea master in the 16th century and inventor of Wabi-cha, which became the origin of the modern tea ceremony, had Chohjiroh make Raku-yaki to create the most suitable Matcha bowl for the Wabi-cha tea ceremony.

Raku-yaki is a soft-type glazed ceramic ware and it is divided largely into two types: Kuro-raku is black Raku-yaki, and Aka-raku is red Raku-yaki. Kuro-raku is the earthenware which is changed to a black color in a kiln heated at over 1000C (1832F) since the color of the iron glaze changes by reduction firing. Aka-raku is the earthenware which is changed to a red color in a kiln heated at approximately 800C (1472F) since Aka-raku is made from the clay containing ocher which is changed to red color by reduction firing.

Raku-yaki is lighter in weight than it looks due to low density. Thermal conductivity is not so high and the hand feel and texture is very comfortable and soft. Its form and size also fit perfectly into both hands when drinking Matcha. For these reasons, Raku-yaki is very suitable for drinking Matcha and tea ceremony use.

Raku-yaki is also characterized by its forming method. Raku-yaki is formed only by hand and spatula with the clay on a pallet, while most earthenware is made using an electric potter's wheel or kicking potter's wheel. There is a limit to the depth that can be produced by hand (the hollow of the hand). You will be attracted to the originality and uniqueness of works produced in this limited cubic volume.


Kuro-raku black Raku-yaki

Aka-raku red Raku-yaki


The history of the Raku family - Pedigree potter of Raku-yaki

In the 16th century, Cha-no-yu traditional tea ceremony was regarded as a status symbol and as a way to enhance a sense of presence as an upper-class cultural value. Sen no Rikyuh, who was an attendant of the ruling class in Japan, asked Chohjiroh, a tile-maker at that time, to produce Raku-yaki to create the most suitable Matcha bowl for tea ceremony. Raku-yaki was born specifically to serve Matcha and aesthetically designed to embody Wabi-cha, which is the style of tea associated with the aesthetic sense of rustic simplicity, perfected by Sen no Rikyuh.

Raku-yaki was initially called Ima-yaki, which means "now ware" in Japanese since it was quite avant-garde and novel at that time. Raku-yaki was subsequently renamed Juraku-yaki due to the fact that the Raku home was nearby the Jurakudai palace and also Sen no Rikyuh lived inside the premises of the palace. Juraku-yaki was eventually abbreviated as Raku-yaki.

Since the age of Chohjiroh, the founder of Raku-yaki, the tradition of Raku-yaki has been handed down across successive generations to the present head, 15th generation Kichizaemon. For more than 450 years, successive generations have passed down the technique and tradition of Raku-yaki without any modification. The methods have remained the same since the birth of Raku-yaki. However, it is thought that the tradition is not only to follow in the footsteps of predecessors, but to build upon the history of the Raku family and to innovate. Each generation’s goal was to produce avant-garde and novel works to surpass their predecessors. Therefore, excellent and remarkable works were successively produced and the great tradition remains.

Representative head of the Raku family and the persons concerned

Chohjiroh, the founder (? - 1589)

Chohjiroh founded Raku-yaki under the guidance of Sen no Rikyuh, who established Wabi-cha. His unique works reflect most directly the ideals of WABI SABI affected by Sen no Rikyuh. His works are quite simple, since he negated movement, decoration and variation of form and individuality. However, his works have intense presence.
SHUNKAN (Important cultural assets)

His unique work reflects directly the ideals of WABI SABI.
Source of photo (Cultural Heritage Online): http://bunka.nii.ac.jp/index.php
TAROHBOH (Important cultural assets)

His work is quite simple.
Source of photo (Cultural Heritage Online): http://bunka.nii.ac.jp/index.php
NISAISHISHI (Important cultural assets)

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html

Johkei, the second generation (? - 1635)

After the death of Chohjiroh, he directed the Raku workshop and founded the base of the Raku-yaki continuing until today. Since the age of Johkei, each generation has succeeded to the name "Kichizaemon". His work has more movement and variation of form, which was never found in the works of Chohjiroh.
KUROKI

His work has more movement and variation of form.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
KIKUMON

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
YUHSAISHISHI

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html

Nonkoh, the third generation (1599 - 1656)

Born the eldest son of Johkei, he is also known as Dohnyu and considered as the most skillful potter of the Raku family. He was in close friendship with Kohetsu Honami and it is said that his novel works were affected by Kohetsu. He introduced the decorativeness and spontaneous individuality into the tradition of Chohjiroh that eliminated decoration especially by the application of white or transparent glazes on top of the black glaze.
KINOSHITA

NONKOH is considered as the most skillful potter of the Raku family.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
SOHJYOH

He introduced decorativeness and spontaneous individuality into the tradition of Chohjiroh.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
NUE (Important cultural assets)

It is said that his novel works were affected by Kohetsu.
Source of photo (Cultural Heritage Online): http://bunka.nii.ac.jp/index.php

Kohetsu Honami (1558 - 1637)

Kohetsu Honami was born into a prominent merchant family in Kyoto professionally engaged in the forging and connoisseurship of swords. He was a typical man of culture of his period, developing various cultural activities. In 1615, Kohetsu started making Raku-yaki assisted by Johkei and Nonkoh. His works are known for their spontaneity absent of restriction.
MURAKUMO

His works are known for their spontaneity absent of restriction.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
TATSUMINE

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
FUJISAN (National treasure)

Source of photo (Sunritz Hattori museum HP): http://www.sunritz-hattori-museum.or.jp/
Aka-raku TSUTSUCHAWAN

Source of photo (Cultural Heritage Online): http://bunka.nii.ac.jp/index.php
Kohetsu Honami

Kohetsu Honami who is known as the Japanese Leonardo da Vinci because he mastered various fields.
Letter written by Kohetsu

Letter written by Kohetsu to Johkei, short and simple text is showing their close relationship.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html

Keinyuh, the eleventh generation (1817 - 1902)

He was adopted into the Raku family as son-in-law and succeeded as the 11th generation in 1845. The period he lived through was an age of transition from feudalism to the modernization introducing the modern cultural prospects from the West, as traditions like tea culture steadily declined. Under such unfavorable circumstances, Keinyuh vigorously made a variety of works which are supported by high quality of artifice as well as a poetic sensibility.
Kuro-raku by Keinyuh

Keinyuh made a variety of works supported by high quality of artifice and a poetic sensibility.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
Aka-raku by Keinyuh

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
Incense burner in shape of goose

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html

Kichizaemon, the present head of Raku family (1949 - )

After he graduated from the Sculptural Department at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts in 1973, he went to Italy for further studies. He succeeded as the 15th generation Kichizaemon in 1981. He stepped further forward in the modern interpretation of Raku-yaki, though keeping the fundamentals of the tradition. His avant-garde style is characterized by the sculptural modeling achieved by bold trimming.
SHUHGIKU

Kichizaemon stepped further forward in the modern interpretation of Raku-yaki.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
JYOKA

Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
RIKA

His avant-garde style is characterized by the sculptural modeling achieved by bold trimming.
Source of photo (Raku museum HP): http://www.raku-yaki.or.jp/index.html
Kichizaemon Pavilion

He also designed architecture and tea room of Kichizaemon Pavilion at Sagawa Art Museum.
Source of photo (Sagawa Art Museum HP): http://www.sagawa-artmuseum.or.jp/
Tea room designed by Kichizaemon

Source of photo (Sagawa Art Museum HP): http://www.sagawa-artmuseum.or.jp/
Tea room designed by Kichizaemon

Source of photo (Sagawa Art Museum HP): http://www.sagawa-artmuseum.or.jp/

What is Shouraku / Kirai-kiln?

In 1995, Teruo Sasaki, who was the third potter of Shouraku Kiln, opened a kiln under the name of "Kirai" and the name of "Kyoshitsu" which was given by the fourteenth chief administrator of Daitokuji temple*, Settei Fukutomi Roushi master.

The Sasaki family is well-known for their traditional Raku-yaki at Shouraku Kiln. Shouraku Kiln opened in 1903, and is one of the most traditional Raku-yaki kilns in Kyoto. Yamato Sasaki, who is the son of Teruo Sasaki and the fourth head of Shouraku Kiln, succeeded to Kyoshitsu the second in 2011.

Kirai Kiln produces avant-garde and novel works which are not restricted by traditional style, while still adhering to traditional Raku-yaki techniques. Shouraku Kiln, on the other hand, strictly follows the footsteps and traditional methods of Raku-yaki.

(*) Daitokuji temple was erected in 1325. The temple has had a great influence on Japanese culture and Cha-no-yu traditional tea ceremony, since the spirit of Cha-no-yu is based in Zen philosophy. It is also said that Juko Murata or Sen no Rikyuh, who is the famous tea master and pioneer of the tea ceremony, maintained close relations with Daitokuji temple.








Manufacturing process of Raku-yaki at Shouraku / Kirai-kiln

There are mainly five important processes of Raku-yaki: pugging, forming, trimming, glazing and firing. Each process is a skilled technique for trained craftsmen, as detailed below.

Pugging process

The clay of Raku-yaki is produced by mixing clay with materials such as silica sand and the mineral petalite, which will not break in the high temperature kiln.
Raku-yaki was born in the city center of Kyoto. General earthenware, on the other hand, was born in the region which produced clay suitable for earthenware. Raku-yaki is produced only for Cha-no-yu traditional tea ceremony, unlike general earthenware, which developed as an industry. For this reason, it can be said that Raku-yaki is a highly cultural art.
Clay is ordinarily mixed by machines, however to create excellent works like one-of-a-kind Raku-yaki, the clay is mixed by hand to avoid fluctuation in quality. Even skilled craftsman can produce only about 8kg of mixed clay by hand. The machines, on the other hand, can produce about 200kg of it at the same time.
It is said that it takes more than three years to acquire pugging skill. The clay is allowed to rest for about one week after mixing.

Clay of Raku-yaki is produced by mixing clay with materials which will not break in the high temperature kiln.

Clay is ordinarily mixed by machines, however to create excellent works clay is mixed by hand to avoid fluctuation in quality.

It is said that it takes more than three years to acquire pugging skill.

Forming process

Raku-yaki is formed by hand without using the potter's wheel. The forming method is called TEDUKUNE. The earthenware created by TEDUKUNE is not seen in representative Japanese earthenware except for Raku-yaki. Skilled craftsmen can determine the weight of one piece only by hand, not using a scale.
Unlike ceramics mass produced by industrial machines, craftsmen following the TEDUKUNE method can ensure that each piece has a desirable hand feel and texture as they create each work individually by hand. This makes it possible to create the excellent Matcha bowl which is most suitable for tea ceremony. Since there is a limit to the depth that can be produced by hand (the hollow of the hand), to express originality and uniqueness in the limited cubic volume is the main attraction and aesthetic of Raku-yaki. Raku-yaki is also ordinarily formed asymmetrically and the rim is also not flat but uneven due to TEDUKUNE forming. The unique shape clearly indicates the characteristics of genuine Raku-yaki. It is thought that the characteristics are the foundation of the Cha-no-yu tea ceremony and reflect the Japanese aesthetic.

After drying for about three days, the base called KOHDAI is attached to the bottom of the bowl by using adhesive clay. This is a very difficult and delicate process even for skilled craftsmen since the KOHDAI can easily separate from the bowl during firing in the kiln if it is insufficiently attached. Next, the bowl is trimmed, after drying about three days to one week.


Skilled craftsman can determine the weight of one piece only by hand, not using a scale.

Raku-yaki is formed by hand without using the potter's wheel.

Craftsman can ensure that each piece has a desirable hand feel and texture as they create each work individually by hand.

The base called KOHDAI is attached to the bottom of the bowl by using adhesive clay.

This is a very delicate process even since the KOHDAI can easily separate from the bowl during firing in the kiln.

Trimming process

Trimming is one of the most important processes to determine the quality of works. It is said that it takes more than ten years to learn to produce even a practice Matcha bowl, not for tea ceremony. Each craftsman owns several original trimming tools like a metal spatula and trims the works using the optimal one. Not only the surface but also the inside of the bowl is trimmed and each hollow called CHAKIN-ZURE, CHASEN-ZURE and CHA-DAMARI* is formed by trimming. These are features of traditional Raku-yaki. While considering the usability and thickness of the glaze, the craftsmen carefully scrape. This is also a difficult and delicate process since the bowl can easily break if an area was milled too much. Craftsmen shape the works imagining the final form.

(*) CHAKIN-ZURE means the point where cloth used in the tea ceremony rubs, CHASEN-ZURE means the point CHASEN Bamboo Whisk rubs, and CHA-DAMARI means tea pool in Japanese. CHAKIN-ZURE is the curved place near the rim, CHASEN-ZURE is the curve inside the bottom of the bowl, and CHA-DAMARI is the bottom point in which CHA tea gathers.


Trimming is one of the most important processes to determine the quality of works.

Each craftsman owns several original trimming tools and trims the works using the optimal one.

While considering the usability and thickness of the glaze, the craftsmen carefully scrape.

Glazing process

KAMOGAWA stones, which are mined at the upper courses of the KAMO river, a famous river in Kyoto, are used for the glaze of traditional Kuro-raku black Raku-yaki. KAMOGAWA stones contain iron and the iron creates the beautiful and unique black color characteristic of Kuro-raku, which appears during reduction firing. When fired by low melting, calm and faded color appears. The color is found predominantly in the works of Chohjiroh, the founder of the Raku family. When fired by high melting, on the other hand, glossy and lustrous color appears. Craftsmen use different melting points depending on their intention.
Earthenware is not glazed only one time but overglazed four to five times over a period of days. This process creates the ideal surface texture and produces elegant and graceful works.
Transparent glaze is used for Aka-raku red Raku-yaki unlike Kuro-raku, since the red color of Aka-raku appears from the clay, which contains ocher, itself. Thus, to enjoy the noble and excellent red color becomes possible.

Raku-yaki is carefully and elaborately glazed by writing brush.

Earthenware is not glazed only one time but overglazed four to five times over a period of days.

KAMOGAWA stone is used for the glaze of traditional Kuro-raku black Raku-yaki.

Firing process

Kuro-raku is created by firing in a kiln heated to about 1200C (2192F) to melt the glaze completely. It takes about five hours to raise the temperature of the kiln.
After about one minute, which is required to melt the glaze, Kuro-raku which is red hot due to high temperature is taken out from the kiln. The glaze sets at the moment it is taken out from the kiln, and the track of the tongs used to remove the hot Raku from the kiln, called YATTOKO-ATO, remains on the inside and outside of the bowl. This is proof of genuine Raku-yaki produced by traditional Raku-yaki methods. Kuro-raku is commonly fired in the gas kiln, which is burning since it is colored by reduction firing.
Aka-raku, on the other hand, is created by firing in a kiln heated to about 800C (1472F). Aka-raku is commonly fired in an electric kiln which is not burning since it is colored by oxidation firing. Thus, noble and excellent red color is created from the clay itself.
KANNYU, cracking patterns on the surface, is one of the main features of Aka-raku. The KANNYU cracks form a lattice, the size and spacing of which are determined by the timing of cooling in water. If the bowl is quickly imbibed in water just after removal from the kiln, the size of the KANNYU lattice is finer than one cooled slowly. A skillful craftsman will judge the right timing for the work by only the sound of cracking.

Kuro-raku is commonly fired in the gas kiln, which is burning since it is colored by reduction firing.

Kuro-raku is created by firing in a kiln heated to about 1200C (2192F) to melt the glaze completely.

Kuro-raku which is red hot due to high temperature is taken out from the kiln.

YATTOKO-ATO is the proof of genuine Raku-yaki produced by traditional Raku-yaki methods.

After taken out from the kiln, Raku-yaki is cooled in water to set glaze completely.


Raku-yaki Matcha Bowls (Now Available)

We, Hibiki-an have collaborated with Kyoshitsu Sasaki at Kirai Kiln which produces avant-garde and novel Raku-yaki not restricted by traditional style while still adhering to traditional techniques. Raku-yaki is regarded as the most prestigious and highest ranked earthenware in the tea ceremony.
This time, we are fortunate to be able to offer three limited Matcha bowls made by Kyoshitsu Sasaki at Kirai Kiln. You will be fascinated by the world of Raku-yaki and the artisan Kyoshitsu Sasaki.

Limited Matcha bowls (From October 2017 to September 2018)

[KIRAI] SHIROYU CHAWAN - UNHOH (handcrafted Matcha Bowl): US$1,085.00 (Now Available)
UNHOH means clouded peaks. This bowl is characterized by the unique color which is created by blending transparent glaze used for Aka-raku and white glaze. The form is inspired by Chohjiroh, the first generation in the Raku family line of potters. The form is quite simple since Raku-yaki was produced only for the tea ceremony...
[KIRAI] HANADAYU CHAWAN - SEIRYOHRYOH (handcrafted): US$1,085.00 (Now Available)
SEIRYOHRYOH means quite pure and refined in Japanese. This bowl is characterized by the refined sky blue color, produced by turquoise blue glaze, and the unique form, boldly cut away, which evokes the impression of a valuable gemstone. KANNYU cracking adds a fantastic and mysterious atmosphere...
[KIRAI] KURO CHAWAN - SHINKOH (handcrafted Matcha Bowl): US$1,085.00 (Now Available)
SHINKOH means extraordinarily auspicious in Japanese. This bowl is characterized by the fresh and vivid color contrast on the surface. Each color is well-harmonized and evokes a modern and sophisticated atmosphere; it is a work of art. Conversely, the inside of this bowl is simply all black like traditional Kuro-raku black Raku-yaki...