Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Raku - A Brief History

Most Americans think of Raku as a ceramic firing process that involves pulling red hot pottery out of a kiln. While this isn't entirely incorrect, Raku is actually the name of a style of Japanese pottery, first created in the 1500's for use in the tea ceremony.

The famous tea master Sen no Rikyū commissioned a palace tile maker named Chōjirō to create a series of hand-built tea bowls in an imperfect style (as to reflect the ideals of wabi sabi) which was popular among Japan's aristocracy.

The shogun Hideyoshi was so impressed with Chōjirō's work that he awarded him the seal "Raku", which roughly translates to "pleasure". Eventually the family adopted the name Raku.

The Raku family still makes pottery to this day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yayoi and Kofun Periods

As the Jomon period came to an end, it was replaced by the more refined Yayoi culture. Whereas the Jomon people were mostly hunter-gatherers, the Yayoi had learned farming techniques from mainland Asia and become more domesticated, living in villages typically comprised of thatched huts.

Their pottery became more refined. Still made using hand-building methods, their vessels exhibit clean, functional shapes. Potters began to take pains to make their pots smooth and waterproof, employing techniques that include coating the inside of the pots with slip.

Following the Yayoi period was the Kofun, which is marked by the introduction of high-fired (above 2000° F) pottery and the use of the potter's wheel. The pottery was fired in an anagama kiln, a tubular, wood-fired kiln of Korean design.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jomon Earthenware

Japan's contribution to the world of ceramics began more than 12,000 years ago during the Jomon period. The oldest pieces of pottery were hand-built vessels (left). The term Jomon means "cord marked" which refers to the way early Japanese potters decorated their work with rope.

As the 10,000 year Jomon period went on, people began to use the ceramic process for more than just pots for cooking and food-storage. They created ceramic arrowheads and figurines (dogu). The remaining Jomon dogu, created between 1000 and 300 B.C.,  are remarkable. Not only because they lasted 3000 years, but because it's believed that they were religious instruments, intended to be destroyed once their spiritual purpose was achieved.

Fans of anime and manga take note—the use of disproportionally large eyes in Japanese art began more than 3000 years ago!