Rakuyaki or Raku is a form of Japanese pottery characterized by low firing temperatures (resulting in a fairly porous clay body), lead glazes, and the removal of pieces from the kiln while still glowing hot. In the traditional Japanese firing process, the pot is removed from the hot kiln and put directly into water or allowed to cool in the open air.
Raku is considered the traditional method for creating clay bowls for the Japanese tea ceremony. Raku tea bowls are hand-made from earthenware, each with a unique shape and style.
The term raku is derived from the Kanji character meaning “enjoyment” or “ease”. For fifteen generations, it has been the title and seal used by a dynasty of potters whose work formed the central tradition of Japanese raku. In the 16th century, the first of these potters, Chojirō, came under the patronage of the Japanese tea master Sen-No-Rikyu. In 1598, the ruler Hideyoshi bestowed the name Raku on Chojirō after he began making tea bowls to the great tea master’s specifications. Upon the death of Chojirō in 1592, his son Jokei continued the raku tradition. Both the name and the ceramic style have been passed down through the family to the present.
Raku ware marked an important point in the historical development of Japanese ceramics. With the formal recognition of raku potters in the late 16th century, the Japanese artist-potter first emerged from the anonymity of the general craftsman. Other famous Japanese clay artists of this period include Donyu (1574-1656), Hon´ami Koetsu (1556-1637) and Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743).