Osaka Buddhist altar Photo:Osaka Prefecture

Osaka Buddhist altar Osaka butsudan

Long history and unchanged traditions
of the splendid gold lacquer


What is Osaka Buddhist altar ?

Osaka Butsudan refers to Buddhist altars which are mainly produced in Osaka City, Yao City, Higashi Osaka City, Sakai City and Kishiwada City, Osaka Prefecture. Along with general urushi-painted, gold-leafed Buddhist altars, this region is also known for production of Karakimeiboku altars with the grain effect of rare foreign wood (karaki).
Osaka Butsudan is characterized by the Maki-e technique, which is Taka Maki-e that raises the Maki-e design pattern with urushi lacquer to make it look as if it was decorated with a metal ornament. Without nailing metal ornaments, a Buddhist altar body does not get damaged. Gold-leafed pillars, colored carved wooden decors, and sect-designated metal ornaments on the front of the door define Osaka Butsudan. In 1982, Osaka Butsudan gained a national recognition as traditional craft for its prodigious techniques.


Osaka has always been strongly associated with Buddhism since it was introduced in the form of Buddhist scriptures in 552 when six artisans such as a Buddhist statue sculptor and carpenter moved from Paekche to Mitsuura, Naniwazu (current Chuo Ward, Osaka City). Four more specialists were invited from Paekche at the time that Shotoku Taishi built Shitenoji Temple in 593. The artisans and specialists settled in and brought in production of Buddhist altars and altar fittings, which is believed to be the origin of Osaka Butsudan. In 1496, a temple town was developed in the surrounding area in step with the building of Ishiyama Honganji Temple in Osaka by priest Rennyo, giving impetus to demand expansion of local Buddhist altars and altar fittings. The policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Edo Era also propelled household Buddhist altars into widespread adoption, allowing the production of Osaka Butsudan to assume an impregnable position. Colored Buddhist altars adorned with Maki-e designs and a paper sliding door, which were made by Buddhist statue sculptor Ikedaya Yakichi KOBAYASHI in Oharaisuji, Noninbashi (current Chuo Ward, Osaka) in between 1781 and 1788, are said to be a forerunner of Osaka Butsudan.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Wooden base This process is of building the exterior, ceiling, doors and drawers, which is conducted by Kijishi (woodturner). Osaka Butsudan mainly uses well-dried Japanese cedar, pine and Japanese cypress.
  2. 2. Roofing work This process includes building the roof of Kuden (inner sanctuary) placed above Shumidan, where a Buddha statue is enshrined, through careful assembly of many small wooden parts such as hafu, masu and hijiki. Inked in according to predetermined sizes, wooden pieces are cut out to respective shapes and go through fine carving with chisels. Carved pieces are temporarily assembled.
  3. 3. Shumidan Shumidan is a top platform with a constricted center part, which is located in the middle of the altar. Made of dried wood, decors such as a railing analogous to a bridge railing (koran), a constricted center part (ebiduka) and hollowed-out objects for the front table (kurimono) are attached to Shumidan with glue.
  4. 4. Front table The front table, which is located in front of Shumidan, is used as a stand to place an incense burner, vase and candleholder on. Made individually and assembled, a wheel guard, body and top panel are secured with wooden or bamboo pegs. The front table is finished with a piece of wood on the edge called fudegaeshi.
  5. 5. Wood sculpture This process is wood decor carving on transoms and the inside of the altar, out of Korean pine and Japanese White Pine mainly. With a design directly drawn, wood is cut out by tracing the design. Starting with roughing out, the wooden base goes through semi-fine carving and finish carving to apply a final finish.
  6. 6. Urushi lacquering Traditional Urushi lacquering techniques include Tatenuri and Roiro-nuri. Tatenuri is a technique of repeatedly painting the surface with urushi (Uwanuri) without whetting, providing soft texture peculiar to urushi work. With Japanese paper layered, the surface is applied with a mixture of nikawa glue and polishing powder. The further Tatenuri process involves drying the surface, coating it with a mixture of whitewash and polishing powder, burnishing to smooth the surface, painting with urushi (Nakanuri), drying, more whetting, and painting with urushi (Uwanuri). The urushiware is dried in a room used for final curing called muro.
  7. 7. Roiro-migaki Contrasted with Tatenuri lacquering technique, Roiro technique involves a repeated process of coating the surface with Roiro urushi (non-oily black urushi lacquer), drying, smoothening the urushi-painted surface with charcoal, rubbing the surface with raw urushi lacquer, wiping off excess urushi lacquer, and burnishing the surface carefully with deer antler powder. Repeated burnishing delivers a distinctively glossy finish and profound luster.
  8. 8. Maki-e Maki-e is a technique of hand-drawing exquisite patterns or designs using a special brush called makie fude. A defining pattern is drawn with urushi lacquer and then sprinkled with gold or silver powder before it dries to deliver an exquisite finish. This process includes Taka Maki-e technique that raises the Maki-e design pattern with urushi lacquer without stepped metal, distinguishing Osaka Butsudan from others.
  9. 9. Kinpakuoshi Kinpakuoshi is a gilding technique to layer a gold leaf over the Urushi-painted surface of the inside of the altar. It includes applying Hakuoshi Urushi, wiping it evenly with cotton, and layering a gold leaf carefully over the Urushi-painted surface. The gold-leafed surface is gently pushed down with a cotton cloth while aligning the edges of ultrathin gold leaf, and is dried in a room called muro for curing gold leaf.
  10. 10. Coloring Osaka Butsudan employs Kijisaishiki (enhancing the grain effect while using tint color pigments) and Hakusaishiki (coloring the gold-leafed base). Given a three-dimensional appearance with whitewash, decors on pillars are gold-leafed and then colored.
  11. 11. Kazari ornamental metal A design is directly drawn on a copper or brass sheet and cut out by tracing it. Exquisite patterns are engraved in a cut-out sheet and straightened before coloring or gold-plating engraved fine metal.
  12. 12. Assembly Assembly is a final process of Osaka Butsudan. Following the processes, all the parts are assembled in sequence to complete one altar

See more Household Buddhist altars

See items made in Osaka