Murakami carved lacquerware

Murakami carved lacquerware Murakami kibori tsuishu

Grows in beauty with each use
Dynamic engravings and detailed patterns


What is Murakami carved lacquerware ?

Murakami Kibori Tsuishu lacquerware is produced in the area around Murakami City, in Niigata Prefecture. The Murakami region, which was formerly the Murakami Domain, has been famous for its production of natural lacquer since the Heian Period. It was on the streets of this castle town that the beautiful craft involving elaborate engraving and durable, colourful lacquer finishing blossomed. Tekko, the Chinese form of tsuishu which the Murakami Kibori Tsuishu was based on, involved engraving designs on thick layers of lacquer. In Murakami Kibori Tsuishu, however, engraving is done directly on the wood base before applying the lacquer coating, thereby reducing the amount of lacquer required in addition to enabling artists to create dynamic engravings and detailed patterns. The articles are also extremely durable as they are coated several times with a viscous type of lacquer in order to prevent lacquer from flowing into the grooves. Part of the production process includes dulling, which results in a matte finish that can be likened to light from a hazy moon, but the articles grow in gentle luster the more they are used.
The characteristics of Murakami Kibori Tsuishu are its durability against daily use, and the way it gains a deep luster over the years it is used. This is not an art craft that is simply meant to be displayed and admired; the true value of Murakami Kibori Tsuishu can only be brought out through daily use.


Murakami Kibori Tsuishu is said to have originated approximately 600 years ago in the Muromachi Period, by a lacquer craftsman who came to Murakami from Kyoto to aid in the construction of a temple. The lords of the Domain actively promoted the techniques during the Edo Period, and a lacquer magistrate was established in the latter half of the 17th century, further boosting the cultivation of lacquer trees.
The tsuishu and tsuikoku that we see today started to be produced in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the Murakami samurai warriors who worked in Edo began to pick up lacquering and lacquer carving techniques as a hobby, and contributed to the development of the industry when they brought these techniques home with them.
The late Edo Period saw the birth a master craftsman, Shusai ARIISO (1809 – 1879). Born as the second son of temple carpenter Hachirobe INAGAKI, he was learning the family business under his father but his passion was sculpting. He went on to study sculpting in Edo along with lacquer arts, and acquired various techniques such as tsuishu and tsuikoku. By adding sketches of Chinese designs and incorporating kamakura-bori techniques to improve quality, he laid the foundations of the Murakami Kibori Tsuishu that we see today.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wood base production Shapes of the articles are formed using well-dried wood from magnolia and Japanese horse chestnut.
  2. 2. Design The wood bases are passed to the carver, who will draw designs of flowers, birds, mountains, water and peonies on the wood.
  3. 3. Engraving The designs are then carved out using a chisel called urajiro.
  4. 4. Tokusa-gake (Rough horsetail application) The wood bases are passed to the lacquer craftsman, who will polish and smoothen the engravings and cuts with sandpaper so that the lacquer can be applied evenly. A grass known as rough horsetail was used in the past.
  5. 5. Wood hardening A mixture of raw lacquer and bengala (red iron oxide) is applied to fill up the fine holes in the wood base in order to strengthen the durability of the tsuishu. An undercoat is applied to the patterns and the surface is evened out.
  6. 6. Rusting A mixture of raw lacquer and polishing powder is applied 2 to 3 times on areas without any engravings.
  7. 7. Rust polishing The coating surface is wet sanded using a hard whetstone to remove any unevenness. This is carried out 2 to 3 times with the rusting process.
  8. 8. Intermediate coating An intermediate lacquer coat is applied. The lacquer is applied by dabbing with a pad (cotton wrapped in thin rubber) or the fingertips to prevent the lacquer from filling up the grooves, and is subsequently brushed.
  9. 9. Intermediate coat polishing The surface and the engravings are thoroughly wet sanded using a smooth Murakami whetstone.
  10. 10. Overcoating A vermillion lacquer overcoat is carefully applied using the same method used for applying the intermediate coat.
  11. 11. Dulling The surface is evenly polished and dulled using charcoal and polishing powder.
  12. 12. Kebori (Hairline engraving) The articles are returned to the carver, who will engrave patterns as fine as leaf veins on the dulled surface using a sharp triangular chisel.
  13. 13. Rubbing The lacquer craftsman will then rub high quality raw lacquer over the entire article to tighten the surface coating, and the article is finally finished.

Where to Buy & More Information

Murakami-Kibori-Tsuishu Center

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