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We are Anindya & Pratyay, Japanese Language teachers and translators. Presently we are teaching at a Japanese Language Learning Centre in our hometown, Kolkata-India.

The most interesting part of language learning is experiencing another culture. For, Language does not exist apart from culture, that is, the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our life. The study of Japanese language offers unique insights into Japan’s fascinating national culture, which boasts a rich heritage in the fields of native craftsmanship, performance art, visual art, music, film and graphic design. Anyone who can see and feel the beauty of the Japanese Language and culture can improve her/his cultural understanding and international awareness. It also helps one to gain an enhanced perspective of one’s own language and culture.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Raku: Pottery that captures the essence of Zen

In Japanese society, art, craft and everyday life are inextricably mingled. Especially ceramics have a very unique place in Japanese life. Japanese ceramics have many diverse and distinctive styles which are concentrated in towns and areas all over Japan. Potteries such as, 常滑焼き(Tokoname-yaki), 萩焼き(Hagi-yaki), 有田焼き(Arita-yaki), 瀬戸焼き(Seto-yaki),唐津焼き(Karatsu-yaki), 薩摩焼 satsuma-yaki and many others are now known worldwide.

Japanese ceramics have long history. But development of ceramics in Japan really began in the late 16th century during the Momoyama Period (1568-1615). This was also the time when the Tea Ceremony became very popular amongst the aristocracy and the military class. Kyoto wares 楽焼き(Raku-yaki) was introduced at this time as well, much influenced by the taste of the tea masters. Raku-yaki has been closely connected with tea ceremonies since those olden days.


Raku () literally means "felicity". The term 楽焼き (Raku-Yaki) is used to define a style of pottery invented in the 16th century in Japan. Raku tea bowls are considered by some to be the height of Japanese ceramic art. It was the first pottery that was specifically created for the art and culture of Japanese tea ceremony 茶の湯 (cha-no-yu). The pieces are undecorated and modest in shape, devoid of any luxury. Each piece is handcrafted without a wheel, which gives it a slightly uneven but unique shape and style. Each one has its own special look. Traditional Raku bowls have a thick lead glaze usually in black or dark red colors. They seem primitive, but their apparently accidental beauty is of a kind to excite an art connoisseur. The name and the style of ware have become influential in both Japanese culture and literature.

Red and Black Glazed Raku Pottery – Tea Cup Set

Origin of Raku-yaki (楽焼き):

Raku pottery originates out of Japan from the Zen tea ceremony during the Momoyama period (1573-1615). Today, Raku ware is known worldwide as a form of ceramic technique. However, it was initially referred only to the wares made by the Raku family.

The technique of Raku ware was developed by a potter named Sasaki Chojiro (長次郎). Chojiro came under the patronage of the tea master Sen-No-Rikyu (1522-1591), the "official aesthete" of “shogun" Toyotomi Hideyoshi(1537-1598), the leading warrior statesman of the time (and eventually “Lord Chancellor of Japan”). Sen-no-Rikyu was the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony and was largely responsible for bringing the sensibilities of Zen and Taoism to the Japanese tea ceremony. Sen was among the first Japanese aristocrats to recognize the beauty in "wabi-sabi" 詫び寂び (humble simplicity) aesthetics, which celebrate simplicity and imperfection in the things created by man. At first, the tea ceremony was performed with smooth ceramic天目茶碗 (tenmoku tea bowls). Sen commissioned Chojiro to design stoneware bowls that would match the aesthetics the Japanese tea ceremony.

At that time three-coloured glazed potteries, san-cai ware, based on the technology originating from the Fujian region of China were produced in the region of Kyoto. Chôjirô employed this technique to produce tea bowls for the tea ceremony. The exclusive use of monochrome black or red glazes - in marked contrast to the brightness of the generic san cai wares from which they evolved became one of the main characteristics of this ware. That Pottery was well suited to the wabi-sabi aesthetic, and was naturally favoured by Sen no Rikyu. Thus Raku ware came into existence.
Tea bowl with designs of pine boughs and interlocking circles

At first however, this special type of san-cai wares, made by Chôjirô, were not called Raku wares, but Ima-Yaki, literally means "now wares" or "contemporary ware", that is to say, wares produced at the present time. Subsequently, They were distinguished as Juraku-yaki ("juraku wares") derived from “Ju-raku-dai, the name of a palace in Kyoto built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the great symbols of the Momoyama period.

Hideyoshi presented Chōjirō with a seal bearing the Chinese character for Raku. (The term Raku is a shortened form of Rakuyaki, derived from the term “Jurakudai”). Chojiro adopted the name Raku as his family name, as well as started stamping the emblem into all the new pottery. Both the name and the ceramic style have been passed down through the family (sometimes by adoption) to the present 15th generation in an unbroken line. Raku Cho-jiro's descendents still make these tea bowls, although they are extremely expensive. The current Raku headship is with Raku Kichizaemon XV. The house and the workshop are located on the west side of the former Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Characteristics of Raku:

Pleasing to the eye, calming to the spirit and bringing joy and harmony to your heart and life are part of the Raku tradition. The main characteristics of the Raku yaki are simplicity of forms and absence of decoration in a perfect harmony with the spirit of the tea ceremony. It is traditionally characterized by hand-molding of the clay, resulting in each piece being "one-of-a-kind"; low firing temperatures (resulting in a fairly porous body) and lead glazes. Hand-forming allows the spirit of the artist to speak through the finished work with particular directness and intimacy. It is rough-textured and has a very thick surface, but it also has a soft tactile sense.

Raku Jar with Turquoise Flash

Present Trends:
The Raku continues to flourish and tea bowls and other pieces for “cha no yu” continue to be made and used. Additionally, innovative sculpture with western influence and ultra modern style also flourishes. Raku is at the same time very traditional because of its down-to-earth, low-tech features and very modernistic because of the spontaneity involved in its creation.

Today, Raku pottery comes in a variety of finishes and patterns. Ceramic artists from all over the globe have been trying new variations. Raku Ware can now be found in many bright and brilliant shades such as lapis, aqua, persimmon, red, coffee, amethyst etc., with the unique cracked glaze that is the signature of the method. The distinctive patterns are created using special glazes that crack or craze.
Many contemporary Western potters have adopted modified Raku pottery. However the western style Raku only shares the techniques of Raku making, such as low- temperature firing, removing the pieces from the hot kiln, with the glaze still molting hot. But, it lacks the rich culture and spirituality that the ancient style of Raku pottery inherits.

Raku Hagi Karatsu

1 comment:

Piyush Sharma said...

Thank you for publishing this valuable information...!

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