tea bowl - Raku ceramics

The Raku Book

The Raku Book


Cornelia Nagel | Raku Ceramics

The Raku Process

The Tradition

Kichizaemon XV. Raku, his official title, ranks as a living national treasure in Japan. He is a descendent of the dynasty founded by Chojiro, who, together with the tea master Sen-no-Rikyu, provided a new setting of the Zen-tea ceremony in the 16th century. To this day it is still practiced in the same manner: strict, simple and mostly silent. Red and black raku ceramics have been produced in the same fashion since Chojiro's days by the Raku family and they are highly regarded in ceramics. The kilns in which the raku is fired are ancient. Even Raku himself does not know who built them and when. Raku's grandfather prepared the clay which he uses. He will produce tea ceramics as long as this clay lasts. He will then prepare the clay for his grandson who will continue the tradition into the future. Each Raku is obligated to preserve the tradition within his work but at the same time differentiate himself from his predecessor by creating individualized pieces.

Black Raku

Black raku is fired at temperatures around 1,200° degrees celcius. The glaze consists of finely ground stones of the Kamo river in Kyoto. The surface is typically black, silky and sometimes somewhat reddish. The kiln is consists of a hollow in which a saggar is placed, which is coverd with specially hard charcoal. Giant bellows blow air through a little opening to kindle the embers. One piece of ceramic after another is fired in the saggar. When the right temperature is reached the pieces are taken out with tongs to cool off at room temperature.

Red Raku

Red raku is fired at temperatures around 820° degrees celcius. The red shards shimmer because of the semi-transparent lead glaze. Depending on the oxygen supply, its color varies from light red to gray-black. The ceramic becomes porous and produces a soft tone. The kiln is about 50 cm in diameter. The pieces are placed in a saggar and are fired with charcoal and without bellows.

Modern Raku

Bernhard Leach (Englishman), reported on raku in the middle of the 20th century. Initially in the USA, but later also in Europe and the rest of the world, ceramists have tried to develop their own ways of coming up with similar results. This modern raku is called "American raku" in Japan. It is this kind of raku, on the other hand, which inspires today's Raku in his work. Now we've come full circle.

Literature (German)

Soshitsu Sen
Chado – Der Teeweg

Soetsu Yanagi
Die Schönheit der einfachen Dinge

Cornelia Nagel
Raku – Mit Feuer gezeichnet

back to top

Raku ceramics: Kichizaemon, the XVth Raku
Kichizaemon, the XVth Raku
© Nagel, 1999
clay for Raku ceramics
the making of Raku ceramics
Raku firing
Raku glaze
Raku firing
Raku ceramics: accessories for the traditional japanese tea ceremony

Cornelia Nagel | Raku Ceramics | Berlin + Wesenberg - Germany | cornelia.nagel@rakukeramik.com | Imprint