Kamakura-bori lacquerware

Kamakura-bori lacquerware Kamakura bori

Heavenly carvings and unique patterns
from the engravings on Buddhist statues


What is Kamakura-bori lacquerware ?

Kamakura Bori is a type of lacquer ware made in the area around Kamakura City. The tradition dates back to the Kamakura period when Tsuishu and Tsuikoku thickly lacquered wooden wares were imported from China along with other artistic crafts. The style of the imported wares was later incorporated with Japanese arts and traditional patterns, and Kamakura Bori was born. Initially, Kamakura Bori techniques were mainly applied to Buddhist statues and altar items. Under the influence of Chinese artistic crafts, sculptors of Buddhist images and temple carpenters carved Japanese Judas tree or ginkgo into wooden wares, and then lacquered them to finish. Today, production has spread to include such everyday goods as inkstone cases, paperweights, plates, and trays.
Kamakura Bori features chisel markings intentionally left to accentuate the patterned areas. Another unique technique is to sprinkle black powder on a vermilion lacquered surface, in order for the patterns to stand out from the darkened background. The Kamakura Bori carving and lacquering techniques have evolved over 800 years and even today add a timeless beauty to our daily lives and constantly attract visitors to Kamakura City searching for that perfect piece.


Kamakura Bori began its history in the Kamakura period among the sculptors of Buddhist images and temple carpenters. In the Muromachi period, Kamakura Bori incense cases became popular in temples, and later, with the development of tea ceremony culture, Kamakura Bori incense cases and tea boxes began to be used on such occasions. In the Edo period, Kamakura Bori spread beyond Buddhist ritual items, and daily goods began to be produced. Besides Chinese-style carvings, designs unique to Japan were gradually established

At the beginning of the Meiji era, due to the passing of the Edict for Separation of Shinto and Buddhism by the Meiji Government, an anti-Buddhist movement gathered momentum and led to a decline in the number of sculptors producing Buddhist images. Among the remaining sculptors, Itsuki GOTO and Kenzan MITSUHASHI were the two greatest who went on to develop the techniques of Buddhist sculpture and improved the quality of Kamakura Bori crafts. Since then, Kamakura Bori household items have gradually gained popularity among the general public; the techniques have continued to spread and today, it is even used for interior designs. In 1979, Kamakura Bori was designated as one of the Traditional Crafts by the Ministery of Economy, Trade and Industry.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Choosing the timber Kamakura Bori, are made from Japanese Judas trees from Hokkaido and the timber is seasoned for six months to a year before being worked upon. Black ink is used to mark the basic shape which is cut with a band saw. Kamakura Bori works are created collaboratively by many artisans each with a specialty skill, such as carving, lacquering, and tool making.
  2. 2. Wood turning Hikimono kiji, rounded products including bowls, trays and plates make up 70% of all production and are turned on a lathe. Other techniques include sashimono kiji, the combining of several boards, and kurimono kiji, the hollowing and shaping of boards.
  3. 3. Painting A sketch is first made, including patterns conforming to the shape and usage of the final item, these are copied to traditional Japanese paper with aodake dye, before tracing onto the wooden base.
  4. 4. Rough engraving The true beauty of Kamakura Bori lays within the superb engravings. In the first engraving process, the traced lines are carved into the wooden base with a knife; the angle cuts are critical to bring out a sense of perspective and depth, and in this stage, artisans can freely show off their splendid skills.
  5. 5. Shading The outer edges along the engraved lines are raised to create a foreground for the patterns; this is highly skilled work, one slip and a piece is ruined.
  6. 6. Chisel markings By skillful use of a wide range of knives such as a small knife and a flat knife, the carvings are worked up and improved. A feature of Kamakura Bori is to intentionally leave chisel markings on the whole surface to accentuate the patterned area.
  7. 7. Kijigatame (undercoating the wooden base) Raw urushi tree sap, kiurishi (raw lacquer), is applied to the wooden base as an undercoat.
  8. 8. First coat A first coat of raw urushi is applied to the whole surface including engraved lines, followed by a sprinkle of carbon dust and polishing powder. This process maximize the effect of the lacquer by accentuating the carved uneven surface.
  9. 9. Middle coat Two coats of black urushi lacquer are applied, the artisan must pay special attention to prevent urushi pooling in the carved lines. When dry the surface is polished with a whetstone and sandpaper.
  10. 10. Last coat The next process is a final coat of vermilion pigments mixed with translucent urushi, or suki.
  11. 11. Hikuchitori, or makomo powder sprinkling Before the final coat has completely dried, makomo powder is sprinkled on the surface. When dry the surface is highly polished to give an antique patina.
  12. 12. Suriurusi and finishing As a finishing touch, after polishing, raw urushi is reapplied to the whole surface. After drying, more painstaking cloth polishing and polishing with susudama powder is carried out and repeated to then complete the final Kamakura Bori article.

Leading Ateliers

Kamakura-bori lacquerware Sansuido atelier

Kamakura-bori lacquerware Sansuido atelier

Sansuido atelier creates various exquisite traditional Kamakura-bori lacquerware products.
We take orders for any special occasions or presents and repair your lacquerware articles.

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