Nothing embodies Japanese culture more than the austerity and beauty of a tea ceremony according to the teachings of Sen-no-Rikyu. The chawan, the tea bowl, is one of the more important utensils of the art form. In particular, Raku ware, born in Kyoto in a style guided by Sen-no-Rikyu's own sense of aesthetics, is deeply connected to tea ceremony.
The habit of drinking green tea was introduced to Japan from China and quickly became a favourite pastime for nobility and clerics. In the 16th century, tea master Sen-no-Rikyu drastically reformed tea ceremony to create the form in which it is still practised today. To emphasise his new style, he approached Chōjirō, and had him produce a new type of tea bowl according to his specifications. The very first Raku tea bowl was made in the late 16th century by Chōjirō.
Black Raku cylindrical tea bowl named Kineore, Raku Museum Collection
At that time, these tea bowls were considered avant-garde and at first were called ima yaki “now wares”. Later, they were renamed – after the location of the family residence – juraku yaki “juraku wares”, which was eventually shortened to raku yaki. Finally, the family itself adopted the name “Raku” as their last name (probably towards the end of the 16th century), and has been called so ever since. Today, the Raku family is in its 15th generation, and the way of making Raku ware is passed down orally from the head of the family to the next generation.
More information on the Raku family and its history, as well as a family tree and photos of selected works of each family head, can be found on the museum's website. Also, in the museum itself, tablets are available for more information on how Raku ware is made. Both resources are extensive and in English and Japanese.
Black Raku cylindrical tea bowl Yakinuki type named Tenʼa, Raku Museum Collection
The Raku museum celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018; it was opened in 1978 by the 14th head of the Raku family. The modern building is located next to the family residence, which was established at this very spot in the 16th century. Most of the pieces in the collection are family heirlooms comprising 450 years of history, consisting mostly of tea bowls, but there are also other ceramics and tea utensils collected by the Raku family.
There are four exhibitions each year. They usually show a small number of carefully selected pieces, with expert descriptions both in English and Japanese.
Additionally, there are special events where visitors may handle some of the collection's pieces or use them during a tea ceremony. For these exclusive events (held in Japanese only), reservations are required in writing at least one month in advance. See the Raku museum website for further details.
Address: Aburanokôji-dôri Ichijô sagaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-0923
Directions: Take Kyoto City Bus 9, 12 to Ichijo Modoribashi; or Kyoto City Bus 50 to Horikawa Nakadachiuri.
Opening hours: 10:00 - 16:30. Museum is closed on Mondays (except National Holidays), between exhibitions, and during the New Year period.
Photography: Permission varies depending on the exhibition.
Wheelchair accessible: First floor only.
Parking: Free parking available, but very limited. Please consider public transport options instead.
This exhibition celebrates 450 years and 15 generations of the Raku family and their work, as well as the next 16th generation, Atsundo Raku’s works. It showcases select pieces of Raku ware and how these tea bowls embody the old family traditions while at the same time allowing, even inviting, change and innovation, that is, embracing the “now”.
For a more detailed description about this exhibition, visit the Raku Museum website.
Photos # 2, 3, and 5 courtesy of the Raku Museum.
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