Visiting the Raku museum in Kyoto was one of the highlights of our trip to Japan in 2016. Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood in close proximity to the Imperial Palace and run by the Raku family, the museum is considered to be a living cultural treasure exhibiting history-making matcha chawans dating back to the 16th century.
The forebear of the Raku family is a potter named Chojiro. It‘s believed it was his father, Ameya, who brought sancai technique - which gave way to raku technique - to Japan from his native China. Chojiro made his first raku bowls in a wabi-sabi style as commissioned by famous tea master, Rikiu. It was this close collaboration between potter and tea master that created specific raku ware for Japanese tea ceremonies, marking a strong aesthetical departure from the Chinese influence. Over the next generations each chief potter of the Raku family was tasked with both maintaining the tradition and developing their individual artistic signature.
Originally called “now wares” or avant-garde, the wabi-sabi styled ceramic bowls were used and promoted by tea master Rikiu. They were later called “juraku wares” and eventually abbreviated to “raku” becoming the name of the family that made them. The term “raku” has now become associated with the ceramic technique practiced globally, but originally it referred only to the wares innovated by Chojiro and Rikiu and made exclusively by the Raku family.
Raku tea bowls, as envisioned by Rikiu and hand-crafted by Chojiro, are material expressions of Zen spiritual philosophy, embodying austerity, simplicity, naturalness, subtlety, imperfection, stillness and newness. The Japanese way of thinking never separated mind from matter as in Western culture and materiality has not been viewed as worthless from the spiritual point of view. As matter provides a vessel for the spirit to express itself, so is the tea bowl comprehended as a space to evoke the invisible – sense of harmony, purity, respect and inner piece.
In Japanese language Raku means “to enjoy, to feel pleasure”.
Link to Raku museum online.