Raku Firing: The Ancient Japanese Ceramics Technique Explained

Raku Ceramic Raku Firing

The world of pottery has always given a sense of fulfilment to those who are passionate in  creating something beautiful with their hands. Said to be a form of art to express oneself, Raku firing as part of a clay moulding process has various appealing techniques that allow distinctive creations of  pottery crafts. So, today, let’s dive deep into one of the most popular techniques in pottery making which is the raku firing technique that has been around since the late 1500s.

The History

Let’s start off with a little bit of raku firing history. Tanaka Chojiro is the mastermind behind this unique firing method. This founding father of the Raku family is said to produce tea bowls that were either entirely black or entirely red with no decorations to be used in the wabi-styled tea ceremony. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a renowned Japanese samurai, later presented Chojiro’s son with a seal that bore a Chinese character for ‘raku’ which translates to  ‘enjoyment.’   The name and ceramic style has since been passed down through the family for 15 generations (at present) and it has become influential in both Japanese culture and literature.

What is Raku firing?

Raku firing is an ancient Japanese ceramics technique whereby glazed ceramics directly taken from a kiln (while they are still glowing and hot) are placed in a material that is able to catch fire such as newspaper and sawdust. This process is crucial to starve the oxygen in order to create iridescent-like colors on the surfaces. What happens if a piece has no glaze on it? In this case, the oxygen is taken from the clay itself, resulting in a matte-black coloring on the unglazed area.

What makes raku firing unique is that no one knows how the final piece will turn out as the fire has the final say.

Some potters view this technique as something that transcends beyond art as the firing process that takes place on the pottery derived from the Earth is in itself daring, thus, reflecting an enlightened life. Others see it as something that combines all four elements (water, air, fire, and earth) into a masterpiece. As one of the Raku headmen also mentioned, the process is like “finding a cosmos in a tea bowl.”

Magnificent, isn’t it?

Is Raku the same as Obvara?

Well, you can say that they are pretty similar but not the same. Obvara technique, also known as Baltic Raku, is an Eastern European technique originated in the Baltic region. Just like Raku firing, the hot piece which is directly taken out of the kiln is quickly dunked into a special Obvara mixture made from water, flour, yeast, and sugar. The surface of the pot is later scalded to create wonderful unpredictable patterns that are usually creamy-tanned to brown and black in colors. 

And that pretty much sums up our sharing on the Raku firing technique. See you in our next article!

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