In this section, you will be invited to read a part of the story of Raku ceramic. Where does this time of ceramic comes from ? Why is that word Raku used ?
And then, you might want to read also about my history ; about how I came to practice this time of ceramic.
Enjoy your reading !
When, where and why ?
The expression Raku is written with only one ideogram 楽, which has several meanings. It means ease, easy, pleasure, but also amusement, joy, comfort. It is also used to compose the words music or paradise.
Raku originated in Kyoto, Japan, around 1585.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a very powerful lord) had a palace built for himself, Jurakutei (or Jurakudai), as an alternative for the one in Osaka. Tea houses opened here and there, to the pleasure of Samurais and noblemen as they saw the art of tea like a calming meditation and a place to watch the beauty of the world. The great tea master and aesthete, Sen no Rikyu, under Lord Toyotomi’s protection, was obliged to simplify and purify tea ceremonies and decided to use very sober utensils. It was then he called on Chojiro (who died in 1589), a local potter tiler whom he asked to make a bowl, with subtle particularities rather than purely material details. Chojiro, wasn’t used to creating small things like bowls from earth, and was even less likely to be interested in details such as the sensation of holding a bowl between one’s hands, and proceeded to make a large number of then, until Sen no Rikyu finally selected one that was exactly to his liking. From then on, Chojiro became a bowl maker of Imayakichawan (contemporary ceramic bowls) for tea ceremonies. These bowls were simple, sober, with no particular embellishment, and with only two colours of glaze: black and red.
That’s why these are now known as black raku and red raku. They are hand made (a pottery wheel isn’t used) and finished off with only one spatula. The firing is relatively short. Chojiro created bowls that reflect the wabi ideal; simplicity of their craftsmanship evoking Buddhist belief and Taoism purification. Holding one of these bowls during a tea ceremony makes you feel close to the earth while developing your spirit.
That’s about it.
But why Raku ?
Why has this ideogram, that means pleasure, ease, been chosen to designate these clay bowls?
The following theory is the one that is usually remembered.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was having the Jurakudai palace built, and the earth used by potters like Chojiro was the same as the one used for building the palace. The bowls made by Chojiro, his associate, Tanaka Sôkei and his son, Tanaka Jokei, were called Imayaki (contemporary pottery) and used for tea ceremonies, but were also called Jurakuyaki, that is to say Juraku pottery. After Chojiro’s death, Jokei was given a golden seal by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, on which the Raku ideogram楽 was marked. Toyotami had the Jurakudai built as a symbol of a kind of paradise on earth (paradise translates as RakuEn) and gave the same notion of paradise and pleasure to the bowls that were made from the same earth.
Since these first Rakuchawan (Raku bowls), the expression has become the name used by potters making these kinds of ceramics and firing, that have been passed on from one generation to another, until now.
Nowadays, the descendant of this sort of Raku dynasty is called Raku Kichizaemon. It was created in 1949 and is the fifteenth of the Raku “family”, of which Chijiro was the first.
There is a great deal more to be said about raku and its history, especially regarding the origins of the Japanese pottery, and also about the fact that raku as it is now made here in France, or in the United States, where it has known a great evolution, is quite different to the 16th century raku. Thus, to be continued…