Red Raku Tea Bowl
Red Raku Style Tea Bowl for Tea Ceremony; early 20th century.
4.5″ wide by 3″ tall. Stamped “Raku” on bottom.
Raku tea bowls done by the Raku family are extremely expensive and hard to find, and there is a waiting list for customers who desire a new Raku tea bowl, but waiting can sometimes take years. The Raku family also gives permission to designated master potters to use the Raku stamp on their Raku style tea bowls, and these are more widely available. A Black or Red Raku tea bowl is the quintessential tea bowl for the Tea Ceremony, originally produced in accordance with the instructions of Sen no Rikyu, the most important tea master in Japan (1522-1591). Rikyu was the tea master largely responsible for the simplification of the Tea Ceremony aesthetic, and the aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi. Rikyu was a maverick in his day, and often at odds with his most famous tea ceremony disciple, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the military general who ruled Japan. For years they had a turbulent relationship, and due to Hideyoshi’s grandiose ego, he ordered Sen no Rikyu to commit suicide for some imagined offense. At the age of 70 Rikyu committed Harakiri, after hosting a magnificent tea ceremony for his friends and disciples.
Raku ware is hand-thrown and fired quickly, usually 5 to 40 minutes of firing at temperature of 1562 degrees F. to 2282 degrees. Various iron-rich glazes are covered with a transparent lead raku glaze, and when the glaze has melted the bowls are extracted red hot from the kiln for rapid cooling.
Raku pottery has always been a multi-generational endeavor. One set of potters prepares the clay for the next generation to use; the clay is often left to “sleep” for 70 years. So each generation of potters is actually working with clay prepared by the previous generation. Nowadays Raku pottery made by the Raku family is created in a small kiln, at a snail’s pace. Only one piece of Raku pottery is fired each month, creating intense demand for an expensive but exquisite piece of pottery.