Raku family

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  • Japanese: 楽家 (Raku ke)

The Raku family is a lineage of pottery makers known for Raku wares, a specific style of teabowls and other tea wares based in Kyoto and closely associated with Sen no Rikyû, Hon'ami Kôetsu, and other prominent figures in late 16th century tea. The Raku style is typified by half-cylindrical forms and matte red and black colors. Many works continue to be based closely on the forms of famous individual works of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The Raku kilns, based in the Kamigyô district of Kyoto, and their distinctive style and methods were started by Raku Chôjirô in the late 16th century. According to some accounts, he may have been a Chinese potter known for his tricolor glazes and sculptural roof tiles. The early Raku potters worked closely with Hon'ami Kôetsu at times and enjoyed the patronage of Sen no Rikyû and others of similar ilk. By the early 17th century, the Raku potters had a prominent role in producing tea wares for many of the top elites in the tea world, both samurai and commoner.

As the number of tea practitioners and potters both exploded over the course of the 17th century, however, the Raku potters decided to forge a lineage and craft a stronger aura of authenticity and legitimacy around the school, in order to distinguish themselves and to maintain a privileged and elite status, albeit while obscuring the collaborative studio nature of their work and depriving other craftsmen in the school the fame and legitimacy they now crafted for themselves. In 1688, they drafted a genealogy of the Raku masters up until that time, creating a notion of a clean line of succession from fathers to (adopted) sons over eight generations of masters. When the head of the school at that time then retired in 1691, he took on the posthumous Buddhist name Ichinyû and named his son & successor Raku Kichizaemon, starting a tradition in which the current active master in each generation would be known as Kichizaemon, and each would take on a name ending in -nyû upon retirement. Ichinyû's successor, Kichizaemon V, retired in 1708 and took on the name Sônyû.


  • Morgan Pitelka, "Name and Fame: Material Objects as Authority, Security, and Legacy," Mary Elizabeth Berry, Marcia Yonemoto (eds.), What Is a Family?: Answers from Early Modern Japan, University of California Press (2019), 115-117.
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