The term “Raku” refers to a process or to pottery that is created using that process. The Japanese are given credit for developing this process, but there are indications that it may actually have been developed by Korean workers in Japan centuries earlier. The Japanese are still avid collectors of Raku. There is speculation that their passion for this work is derived from its unpredictable nature: that it is appealing to them because their culture requires that their lives be structured.
The Raku process requires donning heat and fire resistant protection, including–for me at least—a full face shield—and using long tongs to retrieve the piece from the kiln while red hot (temperatures close to 2000 degrees). The piece is then thrust into a container where it immediately ignites the combustible material inside, which in many cases is straw. After a few minutes in the fire, it is removed from the still smoldering ashes and plunged into a container of water to begin the cooling process that sets the glazes.
White areas on the piece are a clear or white crackle glaze. Areas that are left unglazed will absorb the carbon, leaving a smoky black surface. Various custom glazes give the colors and metallics seen on Raku. The same glaze can have different appearances making each firing a surprise that can take an adult back to some wonderful Christmas morning.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Raku is generally considered to be non-functional and is NOT intended to function as a container for anything, especially food. Raku is by its nature fragile and will chip easily if clunked against a sink or faucet.