Raku-yaki (楽焼), or Raku ware, is a type of Japanese pottery that is traditionally and primarily used in the Japanese tea ceremony in Japan, most often in the form of tea bowls. It is traditionally characterized by hand-molding of the clay as opposed to turning it on a potter's wheel, resulting in each piece being "one-of-a-kind"; low firing temperatures (resulting in a fairly porous body); lead glazes; and the removal of pieces from the kiln while still glowing hot. In the traditional Japanese firing process, the fired Raku piece is removed from the hot kiln and put directly into water or allowed to cool in the open air. Raku techniques have been adopted and modified by contemporary potters worldwide.
The term Raku (literally, "enjoyment" or "ease") for this kind of pottery derives from Jurakudai, the name of a palace in Kyoto built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), the leading warrior statesman of the time.
In the 16th century, the Japanese tea master Sen Rikyu, who was involved with the construction of the Jurakudai, had a tile-maker named Chōjirō produce hand-moulded tea bowls for use in the wabi style of tea ceremony that was Rikyū's ideal. The resulting tea bowls made by Chōjirō were initially referred to as "ima-yaki" ("contemporary ware"), and were also distinguished as Juraku-yaki, from the red clay that they employed, called Juraku clay. Hideyoshi presented Chōjirō with a seal bearing the Chinese character for Raku. Raku then became the name of the family that produced the wares. Both the name and the ceramic style have been passed down through the family (sometimes by adoption) to the present 15th generation (Kichizaemon). The name and the style of ware has become influential in both Japanese culture and literature.
In Japan, there are "branch kilns" (wakigama) in the Raku-ware tradition, founded by Raku family members or potters who apprenticed at the head family's studio. One of the most well-known of these is Ōhi-yaki, or Ōhi ware.
After the publication of a manual in the 18th century, raku ware was also made in numerous workshops in and around Kyoto, by amateur potters and tea practitioners and by professional and amateur potters around Japan.
Raku ware marked an important point in the historical development of Japanese ceramics, as it was the first ware to use a seal mark and the first to focus on close collaboration between potter and patron. Other famous Japanese clay artists of this period include Dōnyū (grandson of Chōjirō, also known as Nonkō; 1574–1656), Hon'ami Kōetsu (1556–1637) and Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743).
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