Odawara lacquerware

Odawara lacquerware Odawara shikki

Practical product with beautiful wood grain
Its charm grows even more with use


What is Odawara lacquerware ?

Odawara shikki is a type of lacquerware that is made in Odawara city, Kanagawa Prefecture. Odawara lacquerware features a glossy finish highlighting the beautiful grain of the material. The lacquer, which makes use of the natural wood grain, is beautiful, and the pieces are durable, have few distortions and are very practical. Some of the main lacquer techniques are known as "kijironuri" and "suriurushinuri."
Wooden base is prepared by shaving the wood using a potter's wheel machine and it is coated again and again and then polished. The raw lacquer used is sap taken from a lacquer tree; it has such properties as being antibacterial, waterproof, and corrosion resistant; it is also a heat insulator. For colors like vermilion and black, the raw lacquer is processed and used in the course of the intermediate and top coatings; the more coats, the stronger the lacquer. In addition, the wood used as a material is mainly from domestically-grown zelkova trees, which makes for less distortion and produces durable lacquerware. Because the lacquerware has been distributed as a utilitarian product, even if it deteriorates over time, it can be recoated with lacquer and continue in use.


Odawara lacquerware is said to have originated around the middle of the Muromachi period. At that time a group of people who specialized in grinding using a potter's wheel lived in Odawara and they began making utensils from the fine-quality wood that was abundantly available in Hakone and Izu. The lacquer craftsmen gathered for the construction of Odawara Castle developed a method of using lacquer to coat the wooden vessels made by turning and grinding on a potter’s wheel, and this developed into what came to be known as Odawara lacquerware. In the Warring States period, Ujiyasu HOJO, in the third generation of the Hojo clan, was seeking ways to further develop Odawara lacquerware and invited lacquerware craftsmen, who hit upon the “irourushinuri” technique. Thanks to this, the technique of Odawara lacquerware became established in the mid-Edo period, and not only daily necessities such as bowls and trays, but also weapons began to be produced.
Furthermore, at that time, utilitarian Odawara lacquerware was also being shipped to Edo. It was, moreover, regarded as an attractive souvenir of Odawara, which was prospering as a castle town and was a highly convenient and leading post station on the Tokaido Road. The tradition of Odawara lacquerware souvenirs has continued to this day.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making the wooden base The raw wood is obtained from trees such as zelkova, kalapanax, mulberry, and horse chestnut, the type of wood depending on its use and the dimensions of the product.
    The wood is shaped following an ink drawing on the butt end of a log, using a circular saw or a band saw; claws hold the wood and it is made into a rough shape.
    It is dried in a smoke dryer for 3~4 days, and after the end of the piece has been coated with a glue to prevent cracking, it is dried for three weeks in an electric dryer. For another two months to half a year, it is allowed to dry naturally; this process of “taking plenty of time to take out the moisture” ensures that the wood will not crack.
    The dried wooden base is shaped to fit the intended product using a potter's wheel machine or a router, while changing the blades many times. A round shape like a bowl can be made on a potter's wheel machine; a router can handle boxes and special shapes. After the wooden surface has been made smooth, water is applied to it and it is polished using the horsetail plant.
  2. 2. The lacquering process Raw lacquer is painted on the wooden base with a spatula or a brush and wiped away with a cotton cloth, and the piece is put into a drying chamber. After it has dried for a day or two, it is again coated with raw lacquer and then it is allowed to dry. It is wet-sanded using a polishing wheel. This process helps settle the grain and enhances the adhesion of the lacquer. The step of coating with raw lacquer and polishing with cotton cloth is repeated 7~8 times. The surface of the lacquer film is then polished until smooth and finished by rubbing with a very small amount of raw lacquer, followed by drying in a drying chamber for 2~3 days, which completes the manufacturing process.
    Kijironuri involves painting the wooden base with raw lacquer using a spatula or brush. After the lacquer is rubbed in with cotton cloth or the like and wiped off, rust lacquer is rubbed in for rust making. This process is repeated twice and the piece is let dry for 2~3 days, then the surface is polished with a whetstone, paper, or the like to highlight the grain. Raw lacquer is painted on and dried in a drying chamber, then kijirourushi, from which the moisture has been removed, is painted on and dried.
    Kijirourushi is used to create a thin lacquer surface; after the undercoat is polished, kijirourushi is painted on again and allowed to dry. After the intermediate coat is polished, kijirourushi is carefully applied so as to leave no brush marks, and the piece is dried. Repeating the process of undercoating, intermediate coating, and top coating a number of times results in a finish with high transparency. After wet-sanding, the piece is repeatedly polished using a polishing powder or liquid, and the piece is finished.

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