Mikawa Buddhist altar Mikawa butsudan
Development accomplished under the wing of Ieyasu
Fruit of advanced artisan technologies in local quality materials
Mikawa Butsudan refers to Buddhist altars which are made in the Mikawa area of Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. In the Mikawa area, the practice of placing a Buddhist altar in the closet has caused a pedestal to be lower for easier everyday services, which has been incorporated into Mikawa Butsudan in terms of a pedestal tailored to the dimensions of the closet.
With three drawers, Mikawa Butsudan is characterized by the style that delivers luxurious appearance, especially its unique Uneri Nageshi style applied to transoms or roof that allows the beautiful inner sanctuary and Buddha statue to be clearly visible.
As with Toyohashi Fude and Tokonameyaki from the same area, Mikawa Butsudan gained a traditional craft recognition by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Jodo Shinshu was first introduced into the Mikawa area in the Kamakura Period, and took root among local commoners during the Muromachi Period, contributing to Buddhist altar production. Patronized by the shogunate government, current Okazaki City, known as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, performed steady growth as the center of altar production in keeping with the development of Buddhism.
The 117-km-long Yahagi River is one of Japan’s first-class rivers that flows through Okazaki City from Nagano Prefecture, through Gifu Prefecture and enters Aichi Prefecture to Chita Bay. Tokugawa Ieyasu pushed ahead with flood control to the small tributaries of the Yahagi River, allowing the river to become the hub of waterway traffic. With pine, Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress drifted from the upstream, high-quality Urushi lacquer available in the northern Mikawa area and advanced casting and forging techniques introduced to the Mikawa area, the well-endowed environment made Okazaki City a favorable place for altar production where the Shohachi family initiated producing Mikawa Butsudan in 1704.
General Production Process
- 1. Wooden base
Mikawa Butsudan undergoes eight process steps, which are professionally handcrafted by respective expert craftsmen. The first step is woodwork which is conducted by Kijishi (woodturner). This process includes a tenon assembly (hozogumi) of 30 parts of cutout wood to make a frame of an altar and “Hagizuke,” one of its unique techniques that glue-coated tenon boards parched over a charcoal fire before an assembly.
- 2. Kuden (inner sanctuary)
Kuden is an inner wooden sanctuary comprised of a roof, pillars and Shumidan where a Buddha statue is enshrined, and this process is carried out by Kudenshi (artisan for assembling wooden parts). Inner sanctuary styles vary with sects, such as Shogon-zukuri, Goboyo, Zenshumasu-zukuri and Dozukuri. With a pedestal installed lower, Mikawa Butsudan is capable of delivering luxury to the sanctum.
- 3. Wood sculpture
A flower, bird, arabesque or dragon is carved in the top of the wooden wavy nageshi or inside the sanctuary according to a sect-designated style. With a design directly drawn onto the wooden base (Japanese cypress or pine), starting with roughing out, the wooden base goes through semi-fine carving and finish carving to apply a final finish. A unique carving technique called Hanakobori is of carving a floral design in the center of the shoji-paper sliding door, which differentiates Mikawa Butsudan. This process is completed by Chokokushi (sculptor).
- 4. Urushi lacquering
Urushi lacquering is for Nushi (lacquer painter) to paint the wooden base with the sap of the Urushi tree. Ground coating with polishing powder on the surface of the base, sanctuary and carved designs and drying is always necessary before Urushi lacquering. After dried, they are polished on a wetted whetstone to smooth the surface. With the surface smoothed, it involves a repeated process of painting the surface evenly with Urushi, drying and wet-whetting with Suruga charcoal to smooth the surface. Urushi lacquering types vary depending on the intended use among Hakuoshi-urushi, Roiro-urushi and Nuritate-urushi.
- 5. Ornamental fine metal
Ornamental fine metal is handcrafted by Kanamonoshi (hardware maker) for Buddhist altars. Metal ornaments are classified for the purpose of use, ornaments for inside (uchi-kanagu) or outside (soto-kanagu), which various patterns are engraved using a chisel and hammer by respective artisans. Embossed design is used to create a three-dimensional effect on a metal ornament with hairline engraving in the door stop, which defines Mikawa Butsudan.
- 6. Maki-e
Maki-e is a technique of drawing exquisite patterns or designs on the Urushi-painted surface with gold powder sprinkled. The base is painted with refined Urushi lacquer and sprinkled with gold and silver powder, and abalone shells according to the pattern or design before it dries. Traditional Maki-e techniques include Doromori Maki-e, Hira Maki-e and Hakushita Maki-e. Especially Doromori Maki-e raises Maki-e with mud (clay) provided on the design, requiring subtle
- 7. Hakuoshi
Hakuoshi is a gilding technique to layer a gold leaf carefully over the Urushi-painted surface with Hakuoshi Urushi applied. This very delicate work is finished with wiping a gold-leafed object with a soft cloth to remove excess.
- 8. Assembly
Assembly is a final process of Mikawa Butsudan which is conducted by Kumitateshi. Following processes 1 through 7, all the parts are assembled in sequence: Ornamental fine metal, inner sanctuary, wood sculpture, roof, trunk and inside. An assembled Buddhist altar needs final checking for flaws and another polishing