Raku: Alchemy in ceramics

Raku is a technique that is becoming a trend among ceramists and those who want to buy a ceramic piece of unique beauty and with the exotic air of oriental ancestral art.

Cuenco Raku decorativo
CandaceMcCollough Raku Decorative Ceramic Bowl

What is raku pottery and how is it made?

Raku ware is a type of Japanese pottery traditionally used for the tea ceremony. It is most commonly found in the form of chawan tea bowls. These pieces are usually hand-painted and hand-carved, and are of great beauty. They have a rich history in Japan, making them popular all over the world.

There are many different techniques for creating raku pots, but each requires a specific clay that is suitable for the firing process. The clay used must be able to withstand rapid cooling and temperature changes. Precautions must also be taken in its processing.

Raku pottery is made in a multi-step process. The first step consists of shaping the materials and allowing them to dry. The second step consists of firing them at a higher temperature to complete the drying process.

The firing of raku pottery is usually at around 900º. The materials are then placed in vessels filled with sawdust, leaves or other combustible material. This process is vital to obtain the spectacular results of this ceramic.

Raku is a type of low-temperature firing technique used by Japanese potters. By removing the pots from the kiln while they are red hot, the glaze is modified. This process deprives the pottery of oxygen and creates a multitude of colors and effects. As a result, each piece is completely unique. This is why this type of pottery is made with an after-firing process, which creates an unpredictable and magical effect.

Raku pottery is widely used in decoration. The glazes crack when exposed to high temperatures and the unglazed clay darkens. This process creates a beautiful metallic effect.

Due to its special firing technique and the type of clay used, we can see two beautiful characteristics that differentiate this oriental ceramic:

Contrast effect:

By the variation in the color and texture of the surface of the ceramic piece after being subjected to sudden changes in temperature during the process. Removing the hot piece from the kiln and immersing it in a container filled with combustible materials, such as dry leaves or straw produces a reducing environment that alters the color of the surface of the piece, creating beautiful and unexpected shapes between the burned and unfired areas.


It refers to the cracks or fissures that appear on the surface of the ceramic piece due to sudden heating and cooling, this is logically due to the contraction and expansion of the clay. These surface cracks can be filled with glazes, liquid metal, etc., accentuating them and generating a unique texture on the surface of the piece.

History of Raku

The origin of raku pottery dates back to the early 16th century in Kyoto. At that time, Zen Buddhist masters used this technique to create ceremonial tea ware. It is believed that Zen Buddhism encouraged this method of pottery because it embodied the philosophy of simplicity and naturalness.

In the early 16th century, in the Japanese Sengoku period, the samurai and feudal lord or Toyotomi Hideyoshi commissioned the potter Tanaka Chōjirō (1516-1592) to create tiles for his palace. He gave him a gold seal with the name Raku, meaning “comfort and happiness.”

Chōjirō eventually became famous as a potter, and later his adopted son added Raku to his name as a tribute to his father’s talent, thus becoming the family name and the name of the famous type of pottery.

Subsequently, the Paris Exposition of 1867, the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 promoted the practice of raku.

In 1911, the American artist Bernard Leach visited Japan and was inspired by their practices. In 1920, he opened his own pottery, the St. Ives Pottery, in Cornwall. He also taught this technique and introduced post-firing reduction and steaming techniques.

Buy Raku ceramics

We are going to show you some works of artists who keep alive the tradition of creating these unique pieces according to the ancestral Japanese philosophy.

The artists who work this Japanese technique today are faithful continuers of the centuries-old tradition in which the pieces are made. You have some nice bowls for tea (the most common type of bowl is called Chawan) and below nice figures also made in this method.

Raku bowls by Yuriy Karpenko of Chawan Ceramics


Raku Matcha Chawan


Makume style bowl


Matcha bowl

Artijanas’ work


Cat shaped bowl


Miniature dogs


Ceramic cat figurine

The Raku technique step by step

To understand the Raku technique, one must first understand how this process is carried out. A reducing atmosphere is created which decreases the oxidation of the clay minerals and metallic elements. When the kiln is closed, the remaining material is cooled by adding water. The ware is then removed with tongs and sprayed with water.

There are two types of Raku, the naked method and the two-step method. The two-step method is similar to the naked Raku, but the engobe is applied before the second firing, while the naked technique consists of applying a thin layer of engobe and a crackle glaze. The first layer acts as a barrier between the clay and the glaze, while the second layer acts as a crackle pattern. Once the second firing is completed, the slip is removed and the crackle is exposed.

When working with ceramics, the Raku technique is one of the most popular and can give spectacular results. In the western version of the process, potters use gas kilns instead of wood. Although the Raku technique can be unpredictable and frustrating, the results are often beautiful. The technique is a low-firing method that offers a wide variety of glaze color options. It has also been used by ceramic artists to achieve unglazed decorative effects.

Raku Tea Bowl by GVKeramika

Its philosophy

We can say that the raku process has the same elements. Using the elements of creation: air, water, fire and earth, the ceramist incorporates harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

This special ceramic is widely used in the manufacture of bowls for the Japanese tea ceremony.

The Japanese use the term Wakeiseijaku (和敬清寂) to refer to the elements that make up this ceremony and are also present in the creation of Raku ceramic pieces. These are: Respect, harmony purity and stillness.

In a way, Raku pottery is unpredictable in its final results, and the potter’s state of mind is reflected in the work.

Raku firing process

An electric or gas kiln can be used. Once fired, the piece is placed in a reduction vessel, usually lined with organic material. During the reduction process, it is important to use appropriate safety measures to avoid injury.

Raku firing is a traditional ceramic process in Japan. It is used to create a unique finish on pieces. It has been around for centuries and is usually done by hand. The glazes on the pieces crackle in response to the high heat. This creates a unique finish that many ceramic artisans seek. It requires much longer firing times than other methods.

Although raku is a traditional technique, the Western version of the method was developed by potters in the 20th century. In this technique, pottery is fired at a high temperature in an open-air vessel filled with combustible material. The process produces a wide variety of colors and effects on the surface of the pieces, which is why it has become increasingly popular among potters.

What type of clay is used?

The clay used in the Raku technique is usually a white or red clay, as long as it is of high porosity and adequate strength. This allows the piece to heat and cool quickly during firing, which helps to achieve the two characteristic effects we talked about before: the cracking, and the contrast and patterns that form between the burnt and unburnt areas. When a clay allows these temperature changes, and these changes are controlled, the beautiful effects seen in the pieces are achieved.

Raku ceramic sheep figurines made by Nathalie Hamill

What does raku mean?

This name, which is used to describe the style of Japanese pottery that originated in the late 16th century and is associated with the tea ceremony, comes from a Japanese ideogram (kanji) 楽焼 that can have the meaning of “tranquility” or “beauty” depending on the context. Like the term ceramic itself, it alludes both to the action of making these pieces in clay, as well as to the type of pieces themselves.

It also has the connotation of “enjoyment” or “joy”.

Due to its Japanese part, it has a great relationship with Zen, referring to the idea of releasing tension and achieving calm and serenity through art. The artist must have a clear and present mind while working the clay, in the firing and the whole process, thus achieving a ceramic of great beauty and harmony.


This art is one of the most beautiful types of pottery to be found. Its unique technique of firing the piece and then removing it and placing it in a container with combustible material, gives a truly magical surface to a bowl, chawan tea bowl, teapot, figurine, whatever.

Its cracks and exterior effects due to this combustion are truly hypnotic.

Raku is a type of ceramic that is becoming more and more appreciated and valued nowadays. We are in a time in which the common industrial tableware is losing more and more ground to the author’s pieces, unique and original handmade by an artisan.

You can see more online stores where these artists sell their works directly here ⇨

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Note: This article contains links that lead to the artists’ stores outside of the Ceramicartis website. If you buy something from them, we will receive a small commission that will help us to continue our site and in turn continue to support those artists.
This of course does not affect the selling price.

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