Raku Ceramics by Petra Engelke TomlinsonRaku : Ceramics

Raku (Meaning: Happiness, Joy, Ease)

The origin of Raku can be seen in Japan in connection with the spread of Zen culture and the tea ceremony.

In the 16" century this new pottery technique was introduced by a potter called Chojiro. A Korean immigrant to Kyoto.

Raku was mainly used to make tea bowls. The technique differed from the traditional Japanese pottery. Unlike traditional Japanese pottery Raku bowls were hand built with a thick wall and after firing to the desired temperature they were taken out of the hot kiln and cooled down, sometimes by dropping into water. The resulting bowls were not sintered but porous. This made them perfect for holding hot tea which could penetrate into the open pores and thanks to the thick walls of the bowl made it possible to hold the bowlful of hot tea in the hands without burning the hands.

The appearance of the tea bowls with their simple and earthy designs were highly appreciated.

Worldwide Growth

Since the early days Raku has come a long way. Potters all over the world have experimented with all kinds of techniques, making modern Raku so popular today. The possibilities to decorate the objects are endless: Metal oxides, stains, vibrant coloured glazes, textures (combined with or without matt smoked parts of the ware) etc...


The most well known technique is to reduce the hot glowing work in a container filled with combustible material for example saw dust, wood chippings, straw, paper or hay. With the container closed the heat sets the materials on fire and lots of smoke arises. When the reduction is finished the still hot objects (now covered in soot) are taken out and put into water. Once cool the ware can be cleaned. The most exciting moment is cleaning away the soot and seeing the results. The results are always unpredictable but most stunning.

All Raku objects should be looked at as decorative rather than functional. Being porous they are less robust than many other types of pottery and not frost proof. They are not suitable for garden objects, bonsai pots or vases. It is also not recommended for tableware.

The future of Raku

Keep an eye out for Raku. Even these days constant innovative techniques are being developed. Some wonderful new creations will undoubtably be seen in the future that will surprise us all!